After playing this game for over a year I can rightfully say its NOT the AI at fault here. That's normal expansion for them at this point in the game. And yes, after 43 years of game time you should be well along in progression. I'm not too certain of your skill level in the game, but its apparent in this scenario your doing something wrong. Because I don't know what your doing wrong, all I can really give is my strategy during prewarp. If you are quite new to this game, I recommend leaving automation on, and gradually remove the automation until you have something you're comfortable with. Anyway, let me begin.
The first thing you always want to do is build a SMALL spaceport, followed by 2 construction ships, then 3 research bases: one Energy, one HighTech, and one Weapons all at your home planet. Mow, when your spaceport is finished build 2 explorations ships. Make sure you set one of these exploration ships to head to the abandoned frigate before you automate, so that the pirates don't grab it. You should also send your constructions ships to build mining stations at the nearby boides in your home system. Make Caslon and steel top priorities. Also, something I learned from Larry Monte on youtube (I'll give you a link to his channel later, he's a very good resource and helped me develop my own strategy) is that if the planet's resource %s don't add up to at least 100%, its not worth mining. Those % numbers are basically the mining speed at which the station will extract resources. Make sure the total of all resources add up to 100%, and you should be good. Obviously if you are lacking a source of a certain reource disregard this tip. If you need a resource, you NEED a resource. The last thing you want to happen is having a hundred bases that need retrofitting and you're missing a required resource. Anyway, with this out of the way, let me share with you my recommended order of the tech tree.
First and foremost research Shields, Armor, and Transport Systems. Without Shields and armor you are very vulnerable to pirate attacks. And transport system will help if you plan on starting a resort base during your prewarp. There's usually at least one viable location for resorts in your home system. Next start researching higher ship sizes, this'll prepare you for the warp bubble once you get access to it. Then go for better reactors, energy collection, and then proton ionization and better vector engines. For weapons, go ahead and choose a category you'd like. For beginners I recommend either blasters or torpedoes. Missile weapons are good decision too. And for the HighTech branch, get medbays and recreational centers first. These will provide happiness bonuses on your homeplanet. After that I always like to bee line it for a the trader's guild wonder. The extra income can really help. More money = more ships = more power = victory. Remember that.
I know its a lot to take in, and it would be impossible for me to explain everything in a single post. But this should get you going at least for pre-warp. Here's some more resources that could really help you:
Definitely check out Das channel and Larry Monte they are really great commentors and have great tutorials on their channel. If you have any questions feel free to ask here, there's many good people that can help you out. Just remember the most important thing: HAVE FUN! Cheers!