Stratofox Aerospace Tracking & Recovery Team

Stratofox Advice for SpaceshipOne Launch Attendees

Friday, June 18, 2004
by Stratofox

[Note: See Stratofox's pictures from the launch. The media's and our estimates of 100,000+ attendees turned out to be a major overestimation of the crowd. It really was unpredictable how many people would actually make this trek into the desert, and worst-case scenarios needed to be seriously considered. Although we don't know how many people watched from outside the airport grounds, those who tried to enter the airport did all fit in the parking area. We'll still leave the text of this page as it was to show what people were thinking at the time.]

Many Stratofox members will be attending Scaled Composites' SpaceshipOne launch at dawn in Mojave, California on Monday, June 21. As we make our preparations and discuss it with our aviation and space enthusiast friends, it is becoming clear that there is going to be a very large crowd of attendees, probably like space shuttle launches in Florida. Everyone wants the first civilian manned space flight to succeed. And many want to be there to see it. (And it comes only a month after the first unmanned civilian space launch so excitement about these historical precedents is already riding high.)

Scaled estimates 100,000 attendees. Some in the media have guessed 150,000. But considering large air shows can get 200,000 attendees, these numbers seem low to us and our friends. And since the town of Mojave has a population of about 3500, all these numbers indicate crowds far beyond the capacity of local businesses.

Stratofox members who discussed this feel compelled to offer some advice. Please help spread the word to other attendees you know.

Bring extra bottled water to share with others.
Every vehicle in your group should bring 6 flats of bottled water and expect to share them. If you can't do that, bring any extra that you can share.

This idea was floated by some Mojave residents and should be credited to them. Many attendees will probably arrive completely unprepared to be in the Mojave Desert in Summer. There is some concern that there may be medical emergencies due to dehydration, more than the local emergency services can assist with. The best thing everyone can do is help prevent it in the first place.

Bring extra sun block too.

Bring an ice chest for yourself or your group.
Ice is important - you're going to the desert... on the first day of Summer! Bring enough water and cold drinks to keep your group satisfied through your visit. Make sure everyone in your group gets enough fluids.

Get all your supplies before entering the Antelope Valley
Get all your supplies before getting in the vicinity of Mojave, probably no later than Bakersfield, Santa Clarita, or Barstow, depending on the direction you're coming from. Expect businesses at Mojave, Tehachapi, California City, Lancaster/Palmdale and Four Corners to be overwhelmed with other SS1 launch attendees. (All the motels in the Antelope Valley are full. The people staying there may alone be enough to keep local businesses occupied.) So that means to fill your fuel tank and get enough food/snacks, water and ice for your own group.

Low temperatures at dawn are forecasted for the 60's. Daytime temperatures are forecasted for the upper 90's. Be ready for both.

Have patience - don't expect to get on the airport grounds.
The gates will open for attendees at 3:00AM. The White Knight carrier plane is scheduled to take off (assuming no delays) at 6:30AM. That isn't enough time to get everyone onto the airport grounds. Here's a simple explanation.

There are only 210 minutes (three and a half hours) between the gates opening and the takeoff of White Knight. If a crowd of 150,000 comes, it would mean they would need to bring 714 people per minute through the airport entrance in order to get everyone in. That's about 5-10 vehicles per second, depending on the number of people in each vehicle. That simply isn't going to happen. No matter how you look at it, there isn't anywhere near enough time to get everyone in.

So if you're still trying to get in at the time, be prepared to just stop at the side of the road wherever you are before White Knight takes off.

This will probably cause frustration for some attendees. But you'll be mentally better prepared if you know that this situation may be unavoidable. Just do the best you can and enjoy what you can see. Everyone else is trying to do the same thing. Even if you're not near the runway to see the takeoff and landing, the White Knight carrier plane and chase planes should develop contrails and become easy to follow in the sky while climbing to the drop altitude, according to Scaled's web site.

The rocket boost of SpaceshipOne is expected to be visible throughout the area.

Cell phone service may be strained.
There may be times, especially during and just after the flight, that the cell phone infrastructure can't handle the number of calls. This problem may be observed with dropped calls, no dial tone, or no apparent service at all.

In California this kind of phone congestion also happens after an earthquake. So recongize it for what it is and try again later, leaving some extra time for others to make emergency calls if they need to.

If you have an emergency, try dialing 911 on a landline/pay phone. Dialing 911 on a land line will connect you to the Kern County Sheriff.

Dialing 911 on your cell phone will connect you to the California Highway Patrol. They can connect you to other agencies but it takes time. If you need the Kern County Sheriff, dial direct (800) 861-3110.

If you can't phone for help, find an Amateur Radio (Ham Radio) operator to call for help. Stratofox members will have Ham Radios with them.

Bring a radio scanner.
The Mojave Airport's Air Traffic Control Tower usually doesn't open until 7AM but will probably be operating on that morning. The tower uses 123.9 MHz AM as its "ground" frequency (communication with aircraft that are on ground at the airport) and 127.6 MHz AM as the "tower" frequency (communication with aircraft flying within 5 miles.) If the tower is not open, aircraft using the airport will still announce their intentions on 127.6. So that's the primary frequency to monitor if you want to know about the takeoff.

The White Knight carrier aircraft is "N318SL experimental" - listen for "three one eight sierra lima experimental" on the radio. White Knight will carry SpaceshipOne at takeoff.

SpaceshipOne is "N328KF experimental" - listen for "three two eight kilo foxtrot experimental" on the radio. SpaceshipOne should only make any radio calls to air traffic control after it separates from White Knight.

Scaled's web site says that after takeoff it should take an hour to climb to the drop altitude where SpaceshipOne will be launched. Then the space flight and return for landing by SpaceshipOne will take 20 minutes. White Knight and the chase planes should take longer to get back to the airport.

Bring binoculars.
It should be possible to see the rocket boost of SpaceshipOne without binoculars. But if you have them, it should enhance your experience there.

Wear a hat.
This is normal advice - it's hot and sunny in the desert. A hat is your own personal shade. And you'll need it.

SpaceshipOne Media Links

"Town overflows for space launch", San Bernardino Sun, June 15
Viewer's Guide to Monday's First Piloted Private Space Flight,, June 18

And other misc clippings from the past few months... (probably not all are still valid),0,659966.story?coll=ny-health-headlines,1282,63886,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_6,1282,63886,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_3,1,4340588.story?coll=hc-headlines-local,1413,204~21478~2210686,00.html,4386,254438,00.html,5744,9736019%255E23349,00.html,1282,63475,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_1,3604,1217226,00.html,12543,493900,00.html