Created By: hbi2k on June 24, 2014 Last Edited By: hbi2k on June 30, 2014
Troped

Colony Ship

A self-contained vessel, usually either sea- or spacefaring, that carries everyone and everything needed to start a self-sufficient colony.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Your homeland is starting to feel like not such a great place to live. Maybe it's overpopulated. Maybe it's polluted. Maybe your religion or ethnic group is being oppressed, or maybe you just misinterpreted a key passage of The Bible. For whatever reason, you've decide to raise stakes and head out into the great unknown to found a new colony where you can live and prosper and marry your cousins, or not, as you see fit.

You've got plenty of supplies and a band of hardy and like-minded colonists at your back, and you're ready to go! Hold on, sparky. How are you going to get there? If your destination can be reached by land, you can just hoof it, but if there's an ocean or its Recycled In Space equivalent, the vast expanse between the stars, to cross, you're going to need a Colony Ship.

Unlike exploration or military vessels, a Colony Ship is intended for just one purpose: to carry everyone and everything needed to start a self-sufficient colony. That includes people, animals, food, tools, seeds, and in spacefaring settings, the machinery necessary to terraform an alien world. Particularly large expeditions may require a fleet of these ships; others will be entirely self-contained in one vessel.

Colony Ships are sometimes made from converted freighters, passenger vessels, or obsolete military ships. They tend to be large, slow-moving, and lightly armed and armored (if at all). If there are hostiles about, they often require a military escort to ensure they reach their destination safely. The spacefaring variation is part of the Standard Sci-Fi Fleet and, in settings lacking Faster Than Light technology, will likely be either a Generation Ship or a Sleeper Starship. Their maiden voyage is often intended to be a one-way journey, with the ship being scuttled upon arrival and salvaged for parts and raw materials for the new colony.

Sister Trope to The Ark, which is made to flee or shelter from a cataclysm. More heavily-armed variants occasionally overlap with The Mothership and/or The Battlestar. See also: Wagon Train to the Stars.


Examples

     Anime & Manga 
  • In the backstory of Trigun, there was Project SEEDs, a series of Generation Ships with most of their occupants in cold sleep while they searched for another habitable planet.

     Comic Books 
  • Crops up in XXXenophile. In "Family Reunion", salvalger Otis discovers the U.N.S.S. Rojong, the first colonization slowship from Old Terra, presumed lost in space. The bio-pods are intact and should contain all of the 'lost' animals: elephants, fireflies, anteaters, unicorns....
  • Nero: Nero builds one in the album "The Ark Of Nero", but it turns out it was It Was All A Dream.

     Literature 
  • Orson Scott Card's Lovelock takes place aboard the Mayflower Ark, an enormous starship carrying the population of a small town to start a colony on a new planet. Despite the name, this is not The Ark, as there's no cataclysm on Earth; they seem to be doing it For Science! as much as any other reason.
  • In Ender's Game, the First Invasion of Earth by the buggers was just an exploratory fleet. The Second Invasion included a Colony Ship carrying a bugger queen, which Mazer Rackham destroyed, collapsing their Hive Mind. After the war, humanity sends out its own Colony Ships to colonize the empty bugger worlds. Ender and Valentine leave Earth on one such ship.
  • Jason Worthing of The Worthing Saga is the captain of the Sleeper Ship variant. Unfortunately, an encounter with Space Pirates damages the sleep chambers in such a way as to afflict the Human Popsicles with severe amnesia, so he winds up with a colony full of adult-sized toddlers.
  • One book in the Jedi Apprentice series (in a crossover with Jedi Quest) has Obi-Wan and Anakin investigate one of these, called the BioCruiser, which recruits people from environmentally devastated planets. It's actually part of an elaborate scheme to rob them all.
  • Time Enough for Love. In the Back Story of the chapter "The Tale of the Adopted Daughter", Lazarus Long uses his ship to take several shiploads of colonists to the planet New Beginnings, along with all of the equipment and supplies they'll need to set up a new colony.
  • Zig-Zagged between this and The Ark in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Ford and Arthur visit a ship, one of three sent out from a doomed planet to colonize someplace else (which turns out to be Earth All Along), which would make it The Ark. This turns out to be a ruse to rid the original planet of the third of its population considered most useless (namely, middlemen), making it this trope. The narration then proceeds to mention that their homeworld shortly after was wiped out by a global pandemic that could have been prevented by said middlemen, making it (unintentionally) The Ark again.
  • Spacecraft: 2000 to 2100 A.D: The Voyager is an interstellar colonization ship capable of carrying 1,200 passengers, their belongings and the equipment they will need to settle another planet. It resembles the Discovery in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • Virtually all the major star nations featured, with the exception of the Solarian League, are descended from colonies set up during a period of time known as the Diaspora of Man. The colony ship Prometheus is considered to be the first of this wave.
    • The Manticore Colony Ltd. dispatched the sleeper colony ship Jason to the Manticore system shortly after it was first surveyed. And they anticipated a Lightspeed Leapfrog situation so the colonists arranged to hire a fleet of FTL frigates to secure the system for them once the tech became widely available.
  • Sholan Alliance: Humans used one of these to get to Kiess. They've since partially dismantled it.
  • Known Space: In the Man-Kzin Wars series, these get a great deal of page time as they are used as escape ships during the invasion of Wunderland.

     Live-Action TV 
  • In Defiance the Votan came to Earth in a fleet of STL sleeper Arks. Nearly thirty years after the war, pieces of the Arks still periodically fall to the planet.
  • The Back Story of Firefly involves a fleet of these as the people of Earth That Was used them to leave and come to a new solar system. It's unclear whether any human life was left behind on Earth, which may have made these The Ark. Colony ships are still used from time to time, as Serenity encountered one that had the misfortune of encountering Reavers.
  • Star Trek:
    • "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" from Star Trek: The Original Series has this, but the ship is disguised as an asteroid and the inhabitants don't know that it's a ship at all; they can't see out from it and think it's the whole world (and the controlling computer wants to keep it that way until they reach their destination planet).
    • Star Trek: Enterprise: One episode has the crew going to see what happened to a colony that had been set up on a remote planet. When no one is found at the colony, T'Pol speculates that they may have left the planet, but Archer points out that it would be pretty hard to do, since their colony ship was taken apart to be used as shelters.
  • Doctor Who - "The Beast Below": After the Earth is rendered uninhabitable by solar flares, the people of Earth flee in great city-sized starships to find new planets to colonize. Great Britain and Northern Ireland (but not Scotland) conduct their search in the Generation Ship Starship UK which is powered by the last of the space whales.

     Tabletop Games 
  • Eclipse Phase: Many Scum barges are former intrasystem colony ships that were turned away by their overcrowded intended destinations after The Fall. Most interstellar colonization is done by the Pandora Gates but Titan has launched a Brain Uploading type Seed Ship to Epsilon Eridani.
  • Mindjammer has several types of colony ship for Settling the Frontier campaigns. And it's possible to randomly encounter 10,000-year old STL colony ships from before Plane Drive.

     Video Games 
  • In Galactic Civilizations each colony module on a ship carries up to 500 million population. When one first lands on an unclaimed planet the ship is disassembled to build the Initial Colony improvement. Later other colony ships (or military transports) can transfer population and remain intact.
  • Sins of a Solar Empire is unique in that colony ships aren't expended when they colonize a planet. Though it's suggested they mostly carry administrators and marines to annex the planet's existing inhabitants.
  • In the first Sword of the Stars game colonizers are used up whenever they're deployed on a planet with some infrastructure unbuilt. They increase population, infrastructure, and terraforming instantly. In the second game a fleet assigned to a colonize mission will ferry colonists from their base to the new world until it's self-sustaining, then become available for re-use.
  • Civilization:
    • Unless you intentionally create a landlocked map, you'll usually wind up making at least a few of the seagoing version. A well-equipped one will include at least one Settlers unit and at least one military unit to protect the new settlement, plus possibly a Scout to search out premium sites for founding cities and additional Settlers or Engineers earmarked for improving infrastructure.
    • Civilization also has a Science victory condition that invokes the space version by requiring the player to build a Sleeper Starship and launch it to Alpha Centauri. The games Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri and Civilization: Beyond Earth are Spiritual Successors that deal with the fate of the colonists when they arrive at their new planet.
  • The first game of the Marathon Trilogy is set on the eponymous Colony Ship, a slower-than-light craft created by converting one of the Mars' moons, Deimos, into a space vessel.
  • The Space Colony ARK from a handful of Sonic the Hedgehog titles is apparently a long-term habitable structure, but has remained inactive for the majority of the time we see it, staying in orbit over the planet.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles X uses this in its opening sequence, in which the people of Earth are caught in the crossfire between two warring alien races, which leaves them no choice but to escape the conflict and the planet's ensuing destruction aboard large interplanetary vessels called "Arks" (seen from 0:36-0:58, here), each intended to colonize a new planet.

     Visual Novels 
  • A derelict colony ship is the setting for Analogue: A Hate Story, with the main character piecing together what went wrong with the help of two AIs.

     Web Comics 
  • In an early arc of Freefall the crew salvage parts from one of the planet's old colony ships to repair their own ship. It's stated that more ships are incoming.

     Web Original 
  • Several colony ships were built and launched after the Nanodisaster in Orion's Arm, many of them grown with cheap nano. After the colonists to Epsilon Indi suffered Cryonics Failure and only six survived no further attempts at colonization would rely on a single giant ship. Now a fleet of relativistic seed ships is usually deployed first, followed by construction of a beamrider station to bring more colonists in, and finally a wormhole terminus is carried by subrelativistic ship.
  • Chakona Space: This is the direction that Neal Foster's Folly is headed along with dozens of allied interstellar cargo ships.

     Western Animation 
  • The Titan Project from Don Bluth's Titan A.E. created a huge, globular spacecraft capable of converting cosmic debris and ice crystals into a class M planet. The Titan craft also carries the complete genomes of all known species on Earth. The plan was to create and terraform Earthlike worlds throughout the galaxy, seed them with Terran flora and fauna, then colonize the new worlds. The first planet created by the Titan was dubbed Planet Bob by Cale Tucker, the Lovable Rogue son of the Titan's creator.

     Real Life 
  • The Mayflower is the most famous of many ships that carried European migrants to the New World.
Community Feedback Replies: 39
  • June 24, 2014
    ayjazz
    Titan AE: Humans live on these after the destruction of Earth. Probably because of being hunted by the Drej, and the state of the ships themselves, they aren't working out so well, as humans near extinction.
  • June 24, 2014
    KTera
    Civilization also has a Science victory condition that requires one player to build a Sleeper Starship and launch it to Alpha Centauri. The games Sid Meiers Alpha Centauri and Civilization Beyond Earth are Spiritual Successors that deal with the fate of the colonists when they arrive at their new planet.
  • June 24, 2014
    MiinU

    Video games

    • Xenoblade Chronicles X uses this as its opening sequence, in which the people of Earth were caught in the crossfire between two warring alien races, which left them no choice but to escape the conflict and the planet's ensuing destruction aboard large interplanetary vessels called "Arks" (seen from 0:36-0:58, here). Both races were relentless and pursued the escaping vessels, gunning many of them down, including the ship carrying the people of Neo Los Angelos.
  • June 24, 2014
    DAN004
    How Did We Miss This One?

    • In Two Thousand Twelve, after 2/3 into the movie, the solution to the apocalyptic Earth is shown: large vessels that will contain what's left of the human civilization (and some animal and plant life) as well as enough supplies for them.
  • June 24, 2014
    zarpaulus
    A standard ship in any space-based Four X game, usually expended when a planet is colonized.

    • In Galactic Civilizations each colony module on a ship carries up to 500 million population, when one first lands on an unclaimed planet the ship is disassembled to build the Initial Colony improvement. Later other colony ships (or military transports) can transfer population and remain intact.
    • Sins Of A Solar Empire is unique in that colony ships aren't expended when they colonize a planet. Though it's suggested they mostly carry administrators and marines to annex the planet's existing inhabitants.
    • In the first Sword Of The Stars game colonizers are used up whenever they're deployed on a planet with some infrastructure unbuilt, they increase population, infrastructure, and terraforming instantly. In the second game a fleet assigned to a colonize mission will ferry colonists from their base to the new world until it's self-sustaining, then become available for re-use.
  • June 24, 2014
    WaterBlap
    • Doctor Who - "The Beast Below": Subverted; "Great Britain and Northern Ireland" (except for Scotland) fly through space on the Starship UK but the "ship" is not a ship but "the last of the space whales".
  • June 24, 2014
    zarpaulus
    Live Action TV
    • In Defiance the Votan came to Earth in a fleet of STL sleeper Arks. Nearly thirty years after the war, pieces of the Arks still periodically fall to the planet.

    Web Comics
    • In an early arc of Freefall the crew salvage parts from one of the planet's old colony ships to repair their own ship. It's stated that more ships are incoming.

    Web Original
    • Several colony ships were built and launched after the Nanodisaster in Orions Arm, many of them grown with cheap nano. After the colonists to Epsilon Indi suffered Cryonics Failure and only six survived no further attempts at colonization would rely on a single giant ship. Now a fleet of relativistic seed ships is usually deployed first, followed by construction of a beamrider station to bring more colonists in, and finally a wormhole terminus is carried by subrelativistic ship.
  • June 24, 2014
    eowynjedi
    Lit:

    • One book in the Jedi Apprentice series (in a crossover with Jedi Quest) has Obi-Wan and Anakin investigate one of these, called the BioCruiser, which recruits people from environmentally devastated planets. It's actually part of an elaborate scheme to rob them all.
  • June 24, 2014
    zarpaulus
    ^ Not exactly the purpose I recalled. More like a wandering cult.
  • June 24, 2014
    oneuglybunny
    Comic Books
    • The natives of the doomed planet Kestor built such a colony ship in Fantastic Four #253, hoping to ferry their finest percentage to a new home world. Subverted in that many aboard the ship have died, and the few aboard acting as crew are too acclimatized to shipboard life to fare well in any other habitat.

    Western Animation
    • The spacefaring luxury liner Axiom from Disney's Wall E was meant to house thousands of people for five years while robots cleaned up the garbage that was choking the Earth. The Axiom turned out housing successive generations of humanity for seven hundred years.
  • June 24, 2014
    randomsurfer
    In When Worlds Collide (book and film) when another celestial body is on a collision course for Earth, a rocket ship with the best & brightest is sent into space to colonize another planet & start human civilization over.
  • June 24, 2014
    nitrokitty
    • A colony ship features prominently in the intro cutscene for Xenogears, and later figures significantly into the plot.
    • A derelict colony ship is the setting for Analogue A Hate Story, with the main character piecing together what went wrong with the help of two A Is.
  • June 24, 2014
    Shinr
    The first game of the Marathon Trilogy is set on the eponymous Colony Ship, a slower-than-light craft created by converting one of the Mars' moons, Deimos, into a space vessel.
  • June 24, 2014
    nitrokitty
  • June 24, 2014
    Tallens
    • The Back Story of Firefly involved these as the people of Earth That Was used them to leave and come to a new solar system. Colony ships are still used from time to time, as Serenity encountered one that had the misfortune of encountering Reavers.

    • Star Trek Enterprise: One episode had the crew going to see what happened to a colony that had been set up on a remote planet. When no one is found at the colony, T'Pol speculates that they may have left the planet, but Archer points out that it would be pretty hard to do, since their ship was taken apart to be used as shelters.
  • June 25, 2014
    DAN004
    Add examples plz.
  • June 25, 2014
    Arivne
    It's hard to think of one of these that isn't already on Sleeper Starship or Generation Ship.

    Literature
    • Time Enough For Love. In the Back Story of the chapter "The Tale of the Adopted Daughter", Lazarus Long uses his ship to take several shiploads of colonists to the planet New Beginnings, along with all of the equipment and supplies they'll need to set up a new colony.
  • June 25, 2014
    f1shst1x
    Sister Trope of The Ark? Contains some similar elements.
  • June 25, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    ^ As far as I can see it, this is The Ark.
  • June 25, 2014
    hbi2k
    ^ There's a lot of overlap, but I don't think they're identical. The Ark specifies that it is made to flee or shelter from a calamity, something that's not always the case with a Colony Ship, so not all Colony Ships are The Ark. Also The Ark is sometimes made to re-inhabit the old homeland once the disaster is over as opposed to finding a new one, so not all Arks are Colony Ships.

    I'll be going through The Ark to see if it has any examples that should more properly go here. Meanwhile, if there are any examples here that should more properly be considered The Ark, please let me know.

    @Water Blap - The way that example's written, I can't tell if the ship is meant to found a colony or not. Can someone more familiar with the episode than I am reword it to specify?
  • June 25, 2014
    jatay3
    Real Life: The Mayflower which is the most famous of the ships that carried migrants to New England.
  • June 25, 2014
    DAN004
    • Mega Man X: There are 2 space colonies in this series, Sky Lagoon (X4) and Eurasia (X5). Bot are the source of conflict of their respective games, in different ways.
  • June 25, 2014
    zarpaulus
    Tabletop Games
    • Eclipse Phase: Many Scum barges are former intrasystem colony ships that were turned away by their overcrowded intended destinations after The Fall. Most interstellar colonization is done by the Pandora Gates but Titan has launched a Brain Uploading type Seed Ship to Epsilon Eridani.
    • Mindjammer has several types of colony ship for Settling The Frontier campaigns. And it's possible to randomly encounter 10,000-year old STL colony ships from before Plane Drive.
  • June 25, 2014
    WaterBlap
    ^^^^Now that I know of The Ark, I think that example (which is already on that article) is more fitting as The Ark. Sorry, I interpreted this wrong.
  • June 25, 2014
    MiinU
    What happened to the Xenoblade Chronicles X example? That one fits the trope description, because each Ark has an actual colony sized city onboard. They even said that during the Treehouse press conference, at E3.
  • June 25, 2014
    hbi2k
    ^ I haven't been following the news about the game; I understand that it was just announced and details are still sketchy. I'm trying to figure out whether it belongs here, under The Ark, or both. The "emergency evacuation of the planet" angle points to The Ark. Are the ships explicitly intended to reach a new planet and set up a colony or colonies there? If so, can we reword the example to emphasize that?
  • June 25, 2014
    DAN004
    Add my Mega Man X example plz...
    • In Wall E, the Axiom spaceships was meant to be The Ark, for humans to live temporarily while the earth is being cleaned. It is revealed, however, that the ships are meant to be a colony all along and the passengers are not supposed to come back.

    Forgot whose machinations it was: Auto, or just the Buy n Large higher ups?
  • June 25, 2014
    hbi2k
    ^ I don't think the Axiom ship in Wall*E really counts, as it's meant to be The Ark (a place to shelter during an environmental cataclysm) and gets repurposed as a Generation Ship, but at no point is it suggested they start a colony anywhere but Earth, which is technically their original homeland and not a colony at all.

    The way the Mega Man X example is written, it's not clear that it fits the trope. Can you rewrite? I'm not familiar with the example.
  • June 25, 2014
    Quatic
    "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" from the original Star Trek has this, but the ship is disguised as an asteroid and the inhabitants don't know that it's a ship at all; they can't see out from it and think it's the whole world (and the controlling computer wants to keep it that way until they reach their destination planet).
  • June 25, 2014
    oneuglybunny
    Let me argue in favor of Disney's Wall E example, as the EVE class probes, and we see more about five or six, are "Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluators"; that is, they search for Earth-like plant life. Presumably, this would qualify any class M planet with a chlorophyll-based biosystem. I will concede that the Axiom was conceived as The Ark at its launch; however the A113 directive turned it into a Colony Ship. It was pure happenstance that the first viable vegetation any Axiom probe found was back on the previously barren Earth.

    Oh, and while I'm at it: permission to modify the Titan AE entry? The Titan doesn't convert itself into an Earth-like planet; it converts asteroids and ice crystals into an Earth-like planet. The Titan itself rockets out of the way as all that mass begins compacting itself into a planet. The Titan can be seen intact during the closing scene on Planet Bob.
  • June 25, 2014
    MiinU
    ^^^^^@hbi2k - I found the video from the Treehouse press conference. As you can see (skip to 3:56 - 4:57), each Ark had an actual city-sized colony onboard, which were meant to be relocated on new planets.
  • June 26, 2014
    Arivne
    Literature
    • Spacecraft: 2000 to 2100 A.D. The Voyager is an interstellar colonization ship capable of carrying 1,200 passengers, their belongings and the equipment they will need to settle another planet. It resembles the Discovery in Two Thousand One A Space Odyssey.
  • June 26, 2014
    hbi2k
    @oneuglybunny:

    The entry for Directive A113 on the Pixar wiki doesn't say anything about searching for other worlds to colonize, it just forbids the ship from returning to Earth. I'd have to rewatch the film to see if there's any evidence that searching out an Earth-like world to colonize was ever considered, so I'm holding the example in abeyance until I get the chance to do so. (I'll jump on any excuse to rewatch Wall*E, ha ha.)

    Go ahead and write up a new Titan AE entry and post it in a comment for me to take a look at. It's been a while since I watched that one and I don't plan to rewatch it any time soon, so I'll take your word for it; I don't recall exactly how Project Titan worked.

    @Miin U:

    Thanks. Modified the Xenoblade Chronicles X entry to make it more clear.
  • June 27, 2014
    Tallens
    • Present in the history of the Honor Harrington universe, as virtually all the major star nations featured, with the exception of the Solarian League, are descended from colonies set up during a period of time known as the Diaspora of Man. The colony ship Prometheus is considered to be the first of this wave.
  • June 27, 2014
    oneuglybunny
    One rewrite for TitanAE as directed:

    Western Animation
    • The Titan Project from Don Bluth's Titan AE created a huge, globular spacecraft capable of converting cosmic debris and ice crystals into a class M planet. The Titan craft also carries the complete genomes of all known species on Earth. The plan was to create and terraform Earthlike worlds throughout the galaxy, seed them with Terran flora and fauna, then colonize the new worlds. The first planet created by the Titan was dubbed Planet Bob by Cale Tucker, the Lovable Rogue son of the Titan's creator.

    I'll readily admit that nowhere in the Wall E film are other worlds mentioned. I'm conjecturing off-world exploration from two clues: there were five EVE's taken from the recovery rocket, all lined up to be cleaned by MO. If all five were from Earth, then the robots are being horribly inefficient in landing that large rocket in five drop zones; smaller shuttlecraft would work so much better. Also, if the Axiom had no intention of leaving Earth, why was it so far out that faster-than-light travel was needed to return to Earth? The Axiom being so far out signals to me that other worlds were being considered as alternate landing sites.

    Of course, this is all Fridge Logic. As far as is shown, the Axiom is much like the SS Minnow from Gilligans Island: a junket craft meant for a short tour afield.
  • June 27, 2014
    zarpaulus
    Another notable from the Honorverse.

    • The Manticore Colony Ltd. dispatched the sleeper colony ship Jason to the Manticore system shortly after it was first surveyed. And they anticipated a Lightspeed Leapfrog situation so the colonists arranged to hire a fleet of FTL frigates to secure the system for them once the tech became widely available.
  • June 28, 2014
    TomWalpertac2
    Web Original example:
    • Chakona Space: This is the direction that Neal Foster's Folly is headed along with dozens of allied interstellar cargo ships.

    Literature Examples:
    • Sholan Alliance: Humans used one of these to get to Kiess. They've since partially dismantled it.
    • Known Space: In the Man-Kzin Wars series, these get a great deal of page time as they were used as escape ships during the invasion of Wunderland.
  • June 30, 2014
    hbi2k
    Thanks, @oneuglybunny!
  • June 30, 2014
    oneuglybunny
    Sure thing. :) Have a hat, at that.
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