The 'Jet streams' of the Galaxy, hyper-lanes are a complex network of natural space-time ripples utilized by various space-faring cultures for faster-than-light interstellar travel.
Invisible to the naked eye, hyper-lanes are 'ripples' of space-time that travel throughout the Milky Way galaxy. It is theorized these naturally occurring ripples were first formed in the Big Bang that formed the galaxy, and have been warped and curved toward various system's by the gravity of those system's stars and the rotation and movement of the galaxy itself. These ripples form a complex network connecting a vast majority of the galaxy's systems, far more dense along each 'arm' of the galaxy, but with sporadic 'connections' where some arms come relatively near each other.
Some hyper lanes have become merged over the centuries, creating forks that split off into multiple directions. These forks can be dangerous for vessels traveling along a lane, as most cultures don't have the technology required to safely pass through them - Instead, the currents of a hyper-lane are divided between the branches, tearing the vessel in the process if it doesn't abort the jump in time.
Compared to the jet streams of most atmospheric planets, hyper-lanes are used by all known space-faring cultures capable of interstellar travel as a conduit for a far more efficient faster than light travel. This allows spacecraft to travel much farther distances than would be possible using non-hyper-lane based travel, the fastest of which would take months or even years to traverse the distance between two neighboring star systems.
While most hyper-lanes are naturally formed, winding from one system to the next, there are a handful of artificially constructed hyper-lanes. Most notable is the Hy'Dovo - An artificially formed and maintained ripple connecting the Dovolish Sect with the Hydari Corporate's core worlds. Currently, the Dovolish are the only known race with the knowledge and technology required to create such a lane, though other factions are experimenting with various methods of producing artificial lanes. Rumors abound that the Dovolish have the ability to collapse a naturally formed hyper-lane as well.
While various cultures first discovered hyper-lanes by varying means, the most efficient method of detecting and measuring a lane is by observing its effects on light and other space matter traveling through and across them. The space-time ripples cause minute distortions in trajectory and speed as matter and energy passes through them. With the right technology and the knowledge of what to look for, spotting these currents is as simple as noticing a breeze blowing a blade of grass.
Despite the Dovolish' technological advantages in hyper-lane travel, other cultures are capable of traveling along these networks including the Sol Empire, Democratic Republic of Terra, United Arshan Federation, Republic of Sion, and very recently, the Drakari Union. While the theoretical speeds a hyper-lane can reach are extremely high, most vessels are incapable of safely reaching these speeds - The strains imposed on the crew and hull by the acceleration required would likely cause death and severe damage, and most current drive systems require some form of fuel or energy that would be drained rapidly trying to reach these speeds.
The exact method of traveling along these lanes can vary, but generally involves a specialized piece of equipment. One method used by the Arshans is a Hyperdrive that excites particles and release them into the ripple. These particles create a strong 'current' that propels the ship in the intended direction through the ripple. The more excited particles are ejected, the stronger the current.
Some factions have even developed ways of manipulating hyper-lane connections, such as the Solus 'Jump Router' that allows a ship to be 'shunted' from one ripple to another nearby lane without having to stop and re-initiate a new hyper-lane jump. This jump router also allows ships to safely travel through merged and forked ripples without being torn in both directions, though it requires precise timing and calibration to react successfully.