The USS Sulaco is a Conestoga class Troop Transport that was used by the United States Colonial Marines on their mission to LV-426.
Some social sciences research into the Alien franchise's symbology has considered it significant that Sulaco in Conrad's Nostromo is the home of the white 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 the investment - drawing parallels between the 'corporate' owners in Conrad's work and the shadowy business entity forming a central part of the Aliens franchise.
The USS Sulaco was used to deploy a dropship and APC with a squad of battle-hardened Marines. While the Marines performed their rescue mission, the Sulaco remained in orbit. After the destruction of the first drop ship, a second was called by Bishop for evacuation. An Alien Queen snuck aboard the Sulaco by hiding onboard the returning drop ship. Ripley operated a Power Loader to save the colony's only survivor, Newt. She fought the Queen in hand-to-hand combat before throwing her into the air lock, before blasting her into space, just like the first Alien was killed.
The Sulaco is featured briefly in Alien 3 as it ejects an EEV containing Ripley, Newt, Hicks, a badly damaged Bishop Android and a facehugger left by the Alien Queen after it caused an electrical fire in the cryosleep chamber. The decision to immediately jettison the sleeping passengers in the EEV is odd, though, as the Sulaco could just have woken them up. According to the Colonial Marines Technical Manual, the Sulaco carries enough cryosleep chambers for a very large number of people, (and ought to, anyway, as there were 15 people aboard the Sulaco prior to its ill-fated mission) so the destruction of some of the chambers would not have been an issue.
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 "a forest of antennae enter[ing] the frame, followed by the enormous bulk of the SULACO". While some claim that the basic shape was based on a submarine, 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. 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. 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). Other sources have also noted the homage the initial scenes pay to the opening tour through the Nostromo in Alien.
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.
- The Sulaco is named after a fictional town in Joseph Conrad's novel Nostromo (the name of the ship from the original Alien), and a number of other names in the franchise are based on Conrad's work as well.