Before the jumpgate network came online, all space travel happened on transfer orbits, which meant turning on the main drive of a spaceship until the correct trajectory could be established, then waiting until a ballistic rendezvous could be made, before decelerating to match velocity with the destination planet. This meant large reserves of fuel had to be carried and trip could take anywhere from weeks up to a year, which required large ships, lots of air and food, as well as facilities aboard ships for entertainment and relaxation.
An alternative is the direct burn, where the engines are running during the entre trip. The ship will actually accelerate more than necessary for its destinations orbital speed, and needs to slow down again at its destination. This way of traveling is much faster than using transfer orbits, and it is also much less dependent on launch windows. However, this takes an excessive amount of energy.
The jumpgate network made all this a thing of the past. Tens of thousands of gates in concentric orbit around the sun and planets create a permanent, if constantly shifting, transport route between worlds. Creating small, gravitationally controlled, short-lived wormholes to instantly travel to another, connected wormhole.
Jumpgate have several limitations though. Their range is limited, linked to their size and energy they can store. The size of a jumpgate also limits the size of the ship that can travel through one. A third limitation is that two jumpgates cannot be too close to each other, due to interference in incoming wormholes.
All this means the network is created by two or more jumpgates, each placed a short distance from each other, forming a single sector of space, with “up” gates leading to a higher ring, and “down” gates to a lower ring. These sets orbit the sun at fixed distances from each other, called Rings. It’s possible to travel from one Ring to the next, either in a higher or lower orbit, but not to travel another sector in the same ring. This means traveling along a ring requires zig-zagging through higher and lower sectors.
Due to gravitational interference, the links between jumpgates are not fixed. It’s impossible to predict exactly to which higher sector an “up” gate connects, due to gravity waves and differing orbital speed of each Ring. A jump gate will generally connect with the nearest jump gate on the same gravity vector, but sometimes another connection is set up; this somewhat chaotic behavior is still not well understood. Last but not least, jumpgates have cool-down period. If a jumpgate is used in a certain direction, travelling into the reverse direction is not possible due to the buildup of gravitational radiation. Travelling into the same direction is still possible, but the gravitational radiation will have to dissipate before the direction can be reversed.
As a final consequence of the network’s construction, most of the solar system consists of “extrasector” space. A sector is relatively small in size, about half an hour of travel for most ships, but the distance between sectors can be many times greater. This “empty” space is of little interest and because it is untraveled, it goes mostly unused.