Colony Ship

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

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     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.
  • Macross 7 and Macross Frontier are mostly set on a couple of many colonization fleets humans sent out after the events of the first Macross series. The colony ships are basically cities in space with a clamshell lid that can be closed for protection, with trailing "islands" for agriculture and various artificial environments.

     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 Enders 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.
  • Several works in the Star Trek Expanded Universe refer to the ancient fleet of colony ships aboard which a group of Vulcans left their homeworld rather than convert to the philosophies of Surak, an event known as the Sundering. They eventually landed on the planet the Federation calls Romulus and became the Romulans of the franchise's present day. In Diane Duane's The Romulan Way the ships traveled at relativistic speeds, and nine of the original fleet of eighteen were destroyed en route by a variety of threats.
  • In The History of the Galaxy books, the first interstellar ship built by humanity, the Alpha, is a humongous colony ship many kilometers long. Designed as a part-Sleeper Starship, it has two alternating crews, who sleep in cryostasis when it's not their shift. Equipped with three massive fusion drives, the ship is designed to accelerate to a sizable percentage of the speed of light in order to reach nearby stars within a reasonable time frame. The ship engages the drives... and appears to be sucked into a strange hole in space. The truth is kept secret from the majority of humanity (they were watching a pre-recorded video of the launch anyway), while the scientist try to figure out what the hell happened. As it turns out, the massive energy output of the engines (equal to at least the output of the Sun) punched a hole in space/time, opening a rip to a dimension that would later become known as hypersphere. After humans learned to enter and exit hypersphere in a controlled manner, there is a period known as the Blind Leap, characterized by the launch of scores (if not hundreds) of hypersphere-capable colony ships, hoping they would find habitable worlds wherever they "surfaced". Since this is before the invention of mass-detectors, the only navigational implements that work in hypersphere, each ship was on a Blind Jump with not enough fuel for a second "submergence" into hypersphere. A surprisingly decent number of them actually do end up finding habitable (or semi-habitable) worlds to settle, although many more are never heard from again. These ships are designed to land on planets and initiate the wake-up of the crew, as well as the activation of the ship's supply of Hugo BD-12 androids. If the androids do not receive any commands for a standard month, they switch to autonomous mode and attempt to awaken the crew manually. The ship itself is expected to become the lower level (or socle) of the new planet's first city. The ship's computer is perfectly capable of running and maintaining the ship's systems on its own for a few centuries.
  • The Jacob's Ladder Trilogy is set aboard Jacob's Ladder, a massive sub-light starship sent to colonize another world. It carries both a living crew and frozen passengers in cold sleep.
  • In the Revelation Space Series, the lighthuggers - multi-kilometer long Sleeper Starships - are sometimes contracted to explore new systems while carrying tens to hundreds of thousands of colonists in cryosleep, along with Von Neumann machinery to set up a base of operations. It's not clear how the crews are paid for their services with the lack of a universal currency, but preferential trading rights with the new colony are implied. In Galactic North, the captain of a colonizing lighthugger has Neural Implanting to think of the colonists as her own children til her mission is complete, causing her to chase a Space Pirate past the end of space and time to recover them.

     Live-Action TV 
  • In Defiance the Votan came to Earth in a fleet of STL sleeper Arks, taking about 5000 years to get here. 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.
  • Ascension (Miniseries): The USS Ascension, apparently of the Generation Ship flavor.

     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.
  • Exalted: While not the intended purpose, the Directional Titans have both the crew and equipment necessary to survive in the Wyld indefinitely, and eventually form a new Creation, should the original ever be rendered uninhabitable.

     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. And each faction has a capital ship class that can colonize.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Xenoblade's spiritual predecessor, Xenogears opens with a cinematic involving a Colony Ship being taken over by a hostile AI. This seems like a Big Lipped Alligator Moment disconnected from the rest of the story until much later in the game.
  • In the Master of Orion series, colony ships are required to expand beyond your initial star system. They are generally slow and unarmed, but can go further from base than a warship. An inhabited world may also construct simpler colony pods to settle other planets within the same system.
  • Halo Wars has the ship Spirit of Fire which is an inversion: rather than being an ex-military ship converted to a colony ship, it is in fact a colony ship converted into a military ship. Everything that made it good at being a colony ship made it ideal for being a ship to transport and support ground forces, especially ones that needed to establish ground presence quickly. Being able to deploy entire field bases in two pieces from Drop Ships.
  • The namesake of Rodina is revealed to be the colony ship being sent from the Earth That Used to Be Better to the Zorica system.
  • The game Alien Legacy starts with the seed ship UNS Calypso arriving to the Beta Caeli system and the crew waking up from cryostasis]. The journey is implied to have taken centuries if not millennia. Earth is likely long gone by that point, having been wiped out by the hostile Centaurians. [[TheArk Dozens of such ships were launched when it became clear humans had no chance of winning the war against an aggressive interstellar empire. Each captain was ordered to maintain radio silence and assume his or her ship was the last remains of humanity. When you wake up, you find out that another seed ship, the UNS Tantalus was sent to the same system 16 years after you but has arrived over 20 years earlier due to a slightly better drive. Except there's no trace of the other ship (the colonists took it apart for spare parts), and no colony either. In fact, your ship remains intact for the entire game. For the most part, it's treated as a Space Station, as well as a source of new colonists early on (as they're being slowly woken up from stasis). Closer to the end of the game, you will need to move it to another planet's orbit. It is turned into an FTL ship with the help of the Empiants and takes off for an unknown destination with a combined human/alien crew.
  • The intro to Freelancer shows five Alliance Sleeper Starships escaping the Solar System, which is about to be completely taken over by the Coalition. Their goal is to settle the Sirius sector, far from the Coalition. In the original uncut trailer, they also unwittingly become The Arks, as the Solar System is destroyed shortly after by a Nomad ship. The event is treated as of such great importance that the landing of the first ship, the Liberty, on a planet dubbed Manhattan marks the start of a new calendar. After landing, the ships were stripped down for spare parts, but were later refurbished to complement the skyline of each capital world.
  • The Mandate starts with Humanity hollowing out asteroids and filling them with Human Popsicles to serve as a slower than FTL means of colonizing the galaxy.
  • Subnautica has the Aurora, a huge crashed spaceship of which the player is the only surviving crew member. Colony ships are also mentioned by name in the opening monologue.

     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.