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USS Sulaco: What Happened Before And After LV-426?

By | Published May 28, 2024

The USS Sulaco, a Conestoga-class military frigate, is a legendary warship from the Alien universe that was considered to be an unlucky ship already before the events of Aliens. Known for its rugged appearance and formidable capabilities, the Sulaco was a vital component in several critical operations. In this article, find out everything about the Sulaco's past and explore the alternate final fates of the ship after the ill-fated LV-426 mission.

Origins Of The USS Sulaco Name

The front side of the USS Sulaco

The name "Sulaco" is derived from Joseph Conrad's 1904 novel Nostromo, in which Sulaco is a fictional town. The use of names from Conrad's works is a recurring theme in the Alien franchise. Other ship names derived from Conrad's novels include the USCSS Nostromo, USCSS Patna, and the USCSS Corbelan IV from Alien Romulus. "USS" indicates "United States Ship", and is a long-standing naval naming tradition. "Conestoga" is an Indian name (from Conestoga Town in North America), which traditionally occurs in US and Colonial Marine weapon names, similar to the "Cheyenne" UD-4 dropship.

The Battle Of Linna 349

The Hangar Deck of the USS Sulaco, with a dropship

Commissioned in 2169 during the Alien timeline, the USS Sulaco quickly found itself in the throes of combat, as described in the Aliens Colonial Marines Tech Manual. In 2171, was involved in a major operation on Linna 349, a colony that rebelled against the local government. While in orbit, the Sulaco was struck by two ASAT missiles, damaging its cargo hangars and forcing the crew to jettison the cargo and vent the atmosphere to extinguish the fires. Although all the damage was repaired, this incident marked the beginning of Sulaco's reputation as an unlucky vessel.

A Docking Accident At Gateway

The Gateway station, where the USS Sulaco docked

Further cementing its unfortunate reputation, the Sulaco was involved in a docking accident at Gateway Station in 2176. The mishap resulted in the loss of five crew members and reinforced the ship's ominous standing within the USCM. Some crews even refused to serve aboard the vessel, considering it cursed. As seen in Aliens, the ship had no captain or crew at all when leaving Gateway, leaving everything to the automated (but somewhat dumb) computer.

Planned Decommissioning and USCM Downsizing

The Cryochambers of the USS Sulaco

According to the Tech Manual, there were 36 ships of the Conestoga class built, while 27 still remained operational as of 2179. The Conestoga was planned to be decommissioned, and replaced with the more modern Bougainville-class attack transports. A Bougainville-class ship showed up in Aliens vs. Predator 2010, obliterated by a Yautja ship while in orbit of BG-386. During the years after the Sulaco was built, the Colonial Marine Corp was also in the process of downsizing itself, while making itself more efficient (and cutting costs). This meant smaller (or nonexistent) crews, fewer squads, but sometimes bigger firepower. This would explain the only 12 Colonial Marines from Aliens (supported by Bishop the android), while the total number of Colonial Marines at the time was 165,000.

Start With Alien Comics

The Mission To LV-426

The USS Sulaco approaching LV-426

In 2179, the Sulaco was dispatched to Acheron (LV-426) following the loss of contact with the Hadley's Hope colony. Under the command of Lieutenant Scott Gorman, the Sulaco transported a contingent of Colonial Marines and Weyland-Yutani advisors. The mission turned disastrous when a Xenomorph infestation was discovered, leading to the decimation of the Marine unit. The survivors managed to escape back to the Sulaco, where they confronted and ultimately ejected the Xenomorph Queen into space.

Return Journey To Earth

The USS Sulaco from Alien 3

The return journey to Earth proved equally harrowing. The four survivors were hoping to reach Earth (and Gateway) in about three weeks, about the same time it took for the ship to reach LV-426. At the start of Alien 3, the ship was in the middle of its journey (more than a week in) near Fury 161, in the Fiori 16 System. The ship slowed down due to the fire in to cryogenic department while detecting a beacon from the prison planet, knowing it would be possible to get help from there.

Fire In Cryogenic Compartment

Fire starts in the Cryogenic Compartment on the Sulaco

The fire in the cryogenic compartment was a direct result of the Facehugger's attack, spawned from the mystery egg. For possible explanations for this, check out the article about the mystery of how the egg ended up on the Sulaco. The facehugger hurt itself on Newt's cryotube, and the corrosive acid from the creature's blood caused severe damage, initiating a sequence of events that led to the evacuation of the cryotubes. The Sulaco had trouble controlling the fire, perhaps being too careful not to hurt any of the passengers.

EEV Malfuctions

The EEV is launched near Fury 161

The Emergency Evacuation Vehicle (EEV) malfunctions added to the tragedy of the Sulaco's return journey. The main malfunctioning EEV crash-landed on Fiorina 161, with Ellen Ripley being the sole survivor. The EEV launch was the last we saw of the Sulaco in the movie, and this is the point where several Expanded Universe sources start to go in somewhat different directions. According to the Alien 3 novelization by Alan Dean Foster, about ten other empty EEVs were launched as well. Somehow, one of these EEV-s fired its retro-rockets while still close to the ship, and crashed back into the Sulaco. This caused extensive damage and further fires, leaving the ship to drift aimlessly.

Low Orbit Of Fury 161

The USS Sulaco in low orbit over Fury 161 in Alien 3: The Gun

The first Alien-based video game to tackle Sulaco's fate was the Alien 3: The Gun Arcade game. According to this relatively fun shooter, the Sulaco ends up in a very low orbit of Fury 161, similar to the USCSS Patna. Without any visible damage to the ship, the Sulaco is boarded by a two-member (depending on the number of players) Colonial Marine rescue team. The ship was infested heavily by Xenomorphs, including big waves of attacking facehuggers. After blasting through the decks, the Colonial Marines escape in the final EEV, ending up in the junkyard of Fury 161, while the Sulaco remains floating in space.

Drifting In Space

The damaged Sulaco drifts in space in Aliens: Infestation

After the escape pods jettisoned, the Sulaco drifted in space, its fate uncertain. It was later discovered and boarded by various parties, each with their own motives and consequences. In the Aliens: Infestation DS game, another Colonial Marine team discovers the ship 18 weeks after the events of Aliens back near LV-426. The ship had been boarded by the U.P.P. (Union of Progressive Peoples) while a large Xenomorph infestation had taken hold. After a detour on LV-426, the marines board the Sulaco again while killing a giant Xenomorph (either an Empress or Xenomorph King) in the hangar, and escape with their lives. The Sulaco continued to drift with extensive damage to its aft section.

Different Boardings

The Sulaco is boarder via the umbellical from the USS Sephora

Aliens: Colonial Marines (and its DLC named Stasis Interrupted) added a lot of convoluted lore to the Sulaco's fate, being slated as canon at first, but being retconned as non-canon later (and also conflicting with Aliens Infestation). In the game, the ship was boarded by several parties, including civilian cargo haulers (from the USS Legato), Weyland-Yutani mercenaries (who took over the ship), and finally, Colonial Marines. Corporal Dwayne Hicks was described to have survived the Fury 161 incident, never being in the EEV in the first place. Under the control of Weyland-Yutani, the Sulaco was flown back to LV-426 orbit, and research labs were set up inside of it, studying Xenomorphs. 17 weeks later, the USS Sephora docked with the Sulaco with an "umbilical" tunnel, and firefights broke out between Colonial Marines and Weyland-Yutani mercenaries, with Xenomorphs thrown in.

Crashing On LV-426

The Sulaco wreckage near the Hadley's Hope Colony

According to Aliens: Colonial Marines, the Sulaco's ill fortune culminated in its crashing on LV-426. The ship, heavily damaged during the conflict with the USS Sephora and the internal firefights, broke apart in the upper atmosphere of the moon. The giant pieces of the ship crashed near the ruins of Hadley's Hope colony, adding to the already apocalyptic landscape of the Atmosphere Processor explosion. Although the game's initial trailer showcased a more intact ship slamming into the surface of LV-426, this was ultimately cut, with only pieces of the ship raining to the surface.

Possible Survival

The Sulaco is boarded by the UPP in William Gibson's Alien 3 comic

Despite the many disasters, there are alternate stories where the USS Sulaco survives its return journey intact, and perhaps even has further adventures. The Earth Hive trilogy had the survivors of Aliens reach Earth safely, although the story picks up years later, never showing the Sulaco. William Gibson's Alien 3 script and comic book had the Sulaco boarded briefly by the UPP (who also turned up in Aliens Infestation), while the ship reached US space later (docking with Anchorpoint station). Newt was sent to Earth onboard the Sulaco to live with her grandparents, while Hicks and Bishop remain on Anchorpoint, and Ripley remains comatose. Sending Newt home seems like a nice farewell and a somewhat happy ending to the unlucky ship.

Another "What If" Scenario

Carter Burke survies in Aliens: What If, and causes trouble on the Sulaco

In 2024, Marvel released the Aliens: What If? comic series, focusing on what would have happened if Carter Burke had lived. In a surprising turn of events, Burke escaped cocooning in the Atmosphere Processor hive and escaped together with the Queen to the dropship, ending up in the Sulaco. While the Queen was defeated, and the survivors went to Hypersleep, Burke emerged from hiding and set fire on the Sulaco himself (similar to the sabotage story that Ripley mentioned in Aliens). He then contacted Weyland-Yutani and waited to be picked up by a company ship, while the Sulaco again remained adrift, its final fate unknown.

Sister Ships

The USS Sephora, a sister ship of the USS Sulaco

The Sulaco was part of a fleet of Conestoga-class starships, each with its own history and missions. Famous Conestoga-class ships include the USS Tyrargo from Aliens vs. Predator Classic (the most difficult mission in the game by far), the USS Verloc from Aliens vs. Predator 2, and the previously mentioned USS Sephora. The USCSS Patna was also a Conestoga-class, but belonged fully to Weyland-Yutani, with Michael Bishop being the man in charge of the Bio Divison mercenary squad. The best-known Conestoga class from the Aliens comic was the USS Melville from Aliens: Colonial Marines, which was destroyed on Bracken's World.


The USS Sulaco remains an iconic vessel within the Alien universe, its history marked by notable missions, unfortunate accidents, and encounters with the deadly Xenomorphs. A definite answer to its final fate remains unclear, and its mysterious future will be further explored in Expanded Universe works.

Tag Categories: Alien Universe Ships

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