Any story about an independent, self-owned tramp spaceship crew tends to implicitly or explicitly raise the question of how the crew got a spaceship, how it afforded it, and why it doesn't just sell the ship and retire rich, especially if it otherwise doesn't seem to own much in the way of expensive stuff (as is often the case in such stories).
If, in a given setting, private ship owners (rather than, say, leasers or corp-hired crews) are ubiquitous and customised ship designs varied, then the only way to justify this is to make the ships be relatively low in sale/production/design cost.
Thus the question: How can relatively affordable spaceships can be justified?
Constraints and considerations:
- I'm trying to find how to justify affordable spaceships without upsetting economies. That is, mildly well-off independent entrepreneurs buying a spaceship outright and starting a small transport business should become viable, but whatever enables that shouldn't produce rapid exponential growth or radically influence the affordability of other goods.
- Post-scarcity or a broad requirement for all captains/crews to be super-rich isn't a solution, as I'm looking for justifications that won't require significantly distorting the rest of the economy. Just because one can afford a ship shouldn't mean that one is also rich enough to never worry about the cost of adventuring equipment ever again.
- Existence alternative technological paths that reduce the curve of economies of scale (making small-scale production more efficient and/or reducing the efficiency gains of larger-scale production) are acceptable (so long as they don't lead to post-scarcity), welcome, and in fact probably necessary.
- Affordable ships should go hand in hand with not-too-high profits from owning one, as otherwise ships become rapid exponential-growth investments.
- Some bending of fundamental laws of nature is acceptable, but I'd like to be able to justify them in at least recognisably science-fictional range of settings (Star Wars are about on the edge of how soft/fantasy-ish settings can be to stay within the scope of the question).
- Given the point above, reactionless drives are an acceptable and even welcome part of the solution, as they remove concerns about expensive liftoff. However, it's important to make sure affordable reactionless drives can have unintended side effects on settings, so any suggestions of making such drives even more accessible should come with the possibility of preventing or at least restricting unintended side effects.
- Indebted captains and rented/leased ships are beyond the scope of the question - I'm looking for achieving affordability, not for a way to let people hold something they can't afford. My go-to default is that ship owners operate as Physical Person Entrepreneurs (not sure how to translate it into English) rather than Micro-Corporations.
- Surplus from a prior mass production run (e.g. ex-military) isn't what I'm aiming for, as that would imply greater uniformity of designs and less customisation than is desired. I'm looking for excuses to make shipbuilding relatively cheaper/easier, not selling of already-built ships at a loss/discount for some reason.
- By bespoke I mean that the ship designs/constructions/etc. are meant to be meaningfully very varied and customised. Examples would be Star Wars' YT haulers, of which I've seen it written that no two are alike aside from a vaguely recognisable silhouette, or Aether Sea's millions of aethercraft variants. I don't mean something as superficial as varied paintjobs.
- While the idea of spaceships being some variant of tamed and cybernetified Space Whales or similar is interesting, it's not what I mean by bespoke spaceships. I'm looking for things that are made, not found with most of the work already done.