Sulaco (fictional spacecraft)

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The Sulaco heading for LV-426
First appearanceAliens
Combat vehicles4 assault/cargo shuttles
Auxiliary vehicles8 UD-4L "Cheyenne" utility dropships
General characteristics
ClassConestoga-class light assault carrier
Armaments8 long-range ASAT missiles
2 x 800 MeV neutral particle beam weapons (disable electronics, range of 100,000 km)
4 kinetic energy railguns (two twin turrets)
60 orbital fragmentation mines
80 guided re-entry vehicles including bunker buster, high-explosive, and nuclear weapon warheads
Defenses2 x 80 MW point-defense lasers
20 decoy ballutes
2 maneuverable decoy drones
Jamming system (range of 6,000 miles in space, up to 60 miles in atmosphere)
Radar absorbing construction
Maximum speed0.74 light years per sidereal day (269.547 c)
Propulsion0.5 g (1.0 g in emergencies)
Power1 Westingland A-59 Lithium-Hydride Fusion Reactor
Mass78,000 metric tons
Length385 m (1,260 ft)
Width50 m (164 ft)
Height85 m (280 ft)

The U.S.S. Sulaco is a fictional spaceship and important setting in the film Aliens. It also appears briefly in the opening scene of Alien 3, as well as in the Aliens: Infestation and Aliens: Colonial Marines video games that takes place shortly after the events of Alien 3.[1]


The Sulaco is named after a fictional town in Joseph Conrad's novel Nostromo,[2] which is also the name of the ship from the original Alien. A number of other names in the franchise are based on Conrad's work as well.

Some scholarly research into the symbolism of the Alien franchise has considered it significant that Sulaco in Conrad's Nostromo is the home of the owners of the silver mine figuring in the book, while the Sulaco in Aliens transports soldiers to investigate unknown troubles at a corporate outpost of Weyland-Yutani and to protect their investment—drawing parallels between the "corporate" owners in Conrad's work and the shadowy business entity forming a central part of the Aliens franchise.[2][3]


The Sulaco is a Conestoga-class starship that transports United Systems Colonial Marines to investigate the loss of communication with a colony on LV-426 in the Aliens film. While carrying only a small complement in the movie, and only two dropships, it is noted in other reference material that as a troop carrier, the Sulaco could carry up to 20,000 tons of cargo, with up to eight UD4L Cheyenne dropships and has sufficient life support capabilities for 90 crew and passengers (with up to 2,000 possible in hibernation for short-term trips).[4]

After encountering aliens in the colony, only Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), a colonist named Newt (Carrie Henn), Marine Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn), and the android Bishop (Lance Henriksen) manage to return to the ship. They also accidentally carry along an alien queen, which Ripley ejects into space during the movie's final battle before the survivors enter cryogenic sleep. In Alien 3, a fire aboard the Sulaco leads to the survivors' cryogenic sleep tubes being launched from the ship, with its further fate unknown.


Syd Mead, a principal conceptual designer on Aliens, first designed the Sulaco as a massive sphere, a "heavily armed cargo ship, outfitted to transport material". James Cameron was not satisfied, as having a spherical model move past the lens would have required variable focus; he produced a quick sketch of the style of ship he imagined and noted that he was imagining something like "a forest of antennae enter[ing] the frame, followed by the enormous bulk of the SULACO".[5]

While some claim that the basic shape was based on a submarine,[6] the design has most often been described as a "gun in space" due to the elongated form resembling the pulse rifles used in the movie—with Syd Mead agreeing that (in addition to Cameron's preferences) this was one of the reasons for the switch from the spherical form.[7] Other film analysts have remarked on how the opening shot of the ship as something sinister and weaponlike presages Ripley's transformation during the movie into a warrior figure, akin to the hardened Marines the Sulaco already carries.[8] The opening shot of the ship travelling through space has also been called "fetishistic" and "shark-like", "an image of brutal strength and ingenious efficiency"—while the rigid, mechanic, militarized interior of the Sulaco (designed by Ron Cobb) is contrasted to the somewhat more organic and friendly interior of the Nostromo in the first movie (also designed by Ron Cobb).[9] Other sources have also noted the homage the initial scenes pay to the opening tour through the Nostromo in Alien.[10]

Mead has denied rumors in the fan community that actual scientific research had been done into how a futuristic spaceship might work. As an example, he noted that the idea for the early spherical design had nothing to do with creating centrifugal gravity, as such problems were for storyline purposes assumed to have already been solved by science.[5]

Color and lighting[edit]

Several movie academics have remarked on the color and lighting symbolism in the Alien franchise, which often offsets white, strongly lit environments (spaceships, corporate offices) against darker, dirtier, "corrupted" settings (derelict alien ships, abandoned industrial facilities). These black touches contrast, or even attempt to take over, the purity of the white elements.[11] Others have agreed with this interpretation and pointed to the Sulaco with its "sterilized, white interior" as representing this element in the second film of the franchise.[12]


Video games[edit]

The video game Aliens: Infestation features the Sulaco as one of its playable settings where the player is part of a marine unit sent to the ship to investigate what happened onboard after the events of Aliens.[13]

The videogame Aliens: Colonial Marines begins by featuring the derelict Sulaco being investigated by a Colonial Marine search-and-rescue team set shortly after the events of Alien 3.[1] The investigating marines find that the ship has been boarded by scavengers and infested by aliens.[14][15] Gearbox Software meticulously created the entire spaceship room-by-room.[16]

Scale modelling[edit]

The ship has also been built as a scale model by enthusiasts, toy company Aoshima Bunka Kyozai, and model maker Halcyon,[17][18][19] with some more detailed versions also produced by small-series/individual commission modelling companies.[20]



  1. ^ a b Interview: A xenomorph may be involved, interview on with Mike Gallo, producer on Aliens: Colonial Marines. 30 April 2008.
  2. ^ a b "Is this Going to be Another Bug-Hunt?": S–F Tradition Versus Biology-as-destiny in James Cameron's Aliens – Blackmore, Tim; The Journal of Popular Culture, Volume 29 Issue 4 Page 211-226, Spring 1996.
  3. ^ Gospel Images in Fiction and Film: On Reversing the Hermeneutical (excerpt via Google Books) – Kreitzer, Larry J.; Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002, Page 76.
  4. ^ Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual – Brimmicombe-Wood, Lee; HarperPrism, 1996, ISBN 0-06-105343-0
  5. ^ a b Interview with Syd Mead, Conceptual Designer, Aliens. Hicks Sunday for, 31 December 2006.
  6. ^ Alien[s], from the website. Accessed 2008-05-20.
  7. ^ Syd Mead's "Sulaco" ship from Aliens just a big gun, from Boing Boing website. Accessed 2008-05-18.
  8. ^ Alien Woman: The Making of Lt. Ellen Ripley (excerpt via Google Books) – Ximena Gallardo C. & Smith, C. Jason; Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004, Page 84-85.
  9. ^ Alien to The Matrix: Reading Science Fiction Film (excerpt via Google Books) – Kaveney, Roz; I.B. Tauris, 2005, Page 159.
  10. ^ Beautiful Monsters: The Unofficial and Unauthorized Guide to the Alien and Predator Movies – McIntree, David; Telos Publishing, 2005.
  11. ^ Alien and the Monstrous-Feminine – Creed, Barbara; from Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema, Editor Kuhn, Annette; Verso, 1990, Page 129.
  12. ^ Ripley and Alien Archived 2012-08-25 at the Wayback Machine – Ortigo, Kile M. in "I’m a Stranger Here Myself": Forced Individuation in Alien Resurrection, Department of Psychology, Emory University, Georgia, United States. Accessed 2008-05-20.
  13. ^ Aliens: Infestation Review: Game On, Man! from website. Accessed 2012-01-10.
  14. ^ Aliens: Colonial Marines (PS2) (Preview) Archived 2009-02-20 at the Wayback Machine, from the GameSpy website. Accessed 2008-05-20.
  15. ^ Article in Game Informer, March 2008, Issue 79, Page 3.
  16. ^ Article in Game Informer, March 2008, Issue 79, Page 47.
  17. ^ Sulaco from Aliens (1986), from website. Accessed 2008-15-18.
  18. ^ Aliens USS Sulaco 1/2400 Scale Model Kit, from website. Accessed 2008-05-18.
  19. ^ 1/2400 Aliens USS Sulaco Model Kit, from website. Accessed 2008-05-18.
  20. ^ Aliens Sulaco, from '' website. Accessed 2008-05-18.