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"I think a lot of kids whose mental growth outruns their maturity gravitate to science fiction."
- Dan Simmons

Space Freighter  
  A large spacecraft used for heavy cargo; can lift off from the Earth or other planets.  

As far as I know, this is the first use of this phrase, which has had a long history in science fiction.

Turning to the charts he jotted down a few calculation and stepped to the controls where he set a new course for the "iron mike" of the space freighter to follow.
From The Space Rover, by Edwin K. Sloat.
Published by Astounding Stories in 1932
Additional resources -

A bit later, you can read the same term in A.E. van Vogt's 1940 story Vault of the Beast:

It crept along the corridor of the space freighter, fighting the terrible urge of its elements to take the shape of its surroundings.

Another nice use of this idea is found in Robert Heinlein's 1941 story Methuselah's Children. Lazarus Long has a problem. What kind of ship could be used to lift one hundred thousand people off the surface of the Earth in a hurry?

He found his answer in a Diana Freight Lines field just outside of Luna City.

...Despite efforts to make the Moon colony ecologically self-sufficient, Luna City still imported vastly more tonnage than she exported. On Earth this would have resulted in "empties coming back"; in space transport it was sometimes cheaper to let empties accumulate, especially on Luna where an empty freighter was worth more as metal than it had cost originally as a ship back Earthside.

They suited up and left the dome by North Tunnel, then strolled along the grounded ships in the long, easy strides of low gravity. Lazarus soon saw that just two ships had both the lift and the air space needed. One was a tanker and the better buy, but a mental calculation showed him that it lacked deck space, even including the floor space of the tanks, to accomodate eight thousand tons of passengers. The other was an older ship with cranky piston-type injection meters, but she was fitted for general merchandise and had enough deck space. Her payload was higher than necessary for the job, since passengers weigh little for the cubage they clutter - but that would make her lively, which might be critically important.

As for the injectors, he could baby them - he had herded worse junk than this.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Space Rover
  More Ideas and Technology by Edwin K. Sloat
  Tech news articles related to The Space Rover
  Tech news articles related to works by Edwin K. Sloat

Space Freighter-related news articles:
  - Delta IV Heavy Lifter - Space Freighters In Fact And In Fiction
  - I Want Massive Space Freighters!

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