So I gotta put this out there, as I found the original SC post-combat gains lacking, which was essentially just credits to spend. Varied loot is what would compel me to explore dangerous areas space! I'd want to fight as much as possible and bring home a nice big haul of stuff including (ship) equipment, personnel, minerals/materials for construction, etc. Maybe even intel on enemy location, unique planets, research, missions as well.
I'd like to see varied rewards for successful combat, the loot scaling in value with the difficulty of the battle. Maybe the occasional elite foe to drop the nicer stuff.