You could take a look at Kerbal Space Program... If you're okay with getting to space the old fashioned way. (From the surface of a planet using rockets. ) It's not really futuristic like Battlestar Galactic or the other games mentioned, so don't expect to get further out than the games equivalent of Pluto.
On the plus side It's got spacecraft flying, Sim Stuff, full spacecraft construction and recently a research and development system. It leans towards realism though, so be warned you may blow yourself up... a lot... especially if you ignore basic rocket science principles.
It's an Indie game and still in Beta, which might also influence your choices.
Freespace 2. For the love of God, if you're looking to do some flying, you need to play Freespace 2.
This. Install Freespace 2 Open to bring the graphics up to par and you've got a hell of a spaceship shooter experience. I recorded a mission for a friend a few days ago. Massive capital ships with beam weapons and flak cannons exploding all around, hell yeah.
I'm a signature virus. Please add me to your signature and help me spread!
Sins of a Solar Empire for strategy. It's on a huge scale and you can control fleets of hundreds of ships from little missile frigates to giant capital ships with their own bays full of fighters and bombers.
X3: Terran Conflict for sim/ship flying. Hell of a learning curve but just watch a let's play on youtube of it to get an idea of how to start off. It pretty much hits what you're looking for right on the f***ing nose though. You start out with nothing and can work your way up to be a merchant king or THE military of the galaxy, or both. And lots of other stuff.
Is sins just a skirmish mode with only 3 civs but the games take 4-10 hours ?
I love the ability to create my own civ and ships in Galactic Civ 2, so kind of leaning towards that, but i may want to get more than 1 game.
The 3 civs are divided into two factions, but you can pit same factions of same civs against each other. Plus you have to deal with pirates. Games can take a long time. SoSE is well worth an investment of time and money.
Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth. -Albert Einstein
You can literally fly from outer space to a planet's surface without loading screens (it just takes a really long time)
It's mead to be "realistic" (as in, how realistic is a space sim really going to be?) and has features like cutting off your engines and just coasting through space since unlike a car, you won't lose velocity just because you stopped accelerating. Where as Star Wars has TIE Fighters banking in space to turn, the ships in EM have omnidirectional thrusters placed all over the ship.
The gameplay is pure sandbox, there is no real objective beyond the objectives you set for yourself, and you have ultimate freedom to do whatever you want. It's a pretty incredible game.
"The easiest way to stop piracy is ... by giving those people a service that's better than what they're receiving from the pirates." ~ Gabe Newell.