The SoE ships are indeed good for low to mid tier exploration as they get the full scan strength bonus regardless of your skills.
The Astero is perhaps a little expensive for an exploration frigate, but it’s a good choice in multiple situations:
- You cannot yet fly a T2 explation frigate, or
- You want to be able to fight/scare/kill other explorers
The Astero is the only CovOps exploration frigate that can put up a fight, so I would always fit it capable of fighting even if your main intention is to do purely exploration.
The exploration cruisers (Stratios and T3 Cruisers) may be more powerful once you get into combat, but data and relic xploration is all about being quick and frigates are better at that.
I would fly something like this:
[Astero, *Astero v2]
Small Armor Repairer II
Damage Control II
Multispectrum Energized Membrane II
Inertial Stabilizers II
1MN Afterburner II
Relic Analyzer II
Warp Scrambler II
Small Cap Battery II
Covert Ops Cloaking Device II
Core Probe Launcher II
Small Gravity Capacitor Upgrade II
Small Low Friction Nozzle Joints I
Hornet II x5
Hornet EC-300 x5
Acolyte II x5
Sisters Core Scanner Probe x8
But you can use T1 or meta versions of the modules if you don’t have the skills yet.
I would recommend against flying an Astero if you do not have the CovOps cloak yet, this ship is pretty expensive and that cloak adds a lot of survivability.
Skills to train for exploration are:
- Archaology (for relic sites)
- Astrometric Pinpointing, Acquisition and Rangefinding
- Hacking (for data sites)
- Covert Ops
- One racial frigate to level 5, your choice
About the racial frigates: compare them and make some fits to see which one you like. The Amarr Anathema and Minmatar Cheetah both have the same 3 high, 4 mid, 3 low slot layout, but the Anathema has more fitting space while the Cheetah aligns and moves quicker. The Gallente Helios has a 2 high, 5 mid, 3 low slot layout which can offer a lot of scan strength and agility, but the lack of a third high slot means it cannot fit another utility module next to the cloak and probe launcher, such as a nullification module or covert cyno. The Caldari Buzzard is a favourite of some, but I have not yet used it myself.
Of course the Astero is a good option as well once you have good skills, but if you’re purely looking for data or relic site loot the T2 exploration frigates are a bit better.
And then there’s also the Pacifier, which is a good alternative to the T2 exploration frigates, but at a much higher price.