Roderick Gravoueille is hoping for clear and calm weather Friday.
The Grade 12 Mark R. Isfeld student built a weather balloon he plans to launch off Mount Washington this Friday at 9 a.m., and the fairer the weather, the closer to the Comox Valley it should land, he says.
"That'll be definitely the most challenging part of the project is finding the balloon after it's landed somewhere," says Gravoueille, noting the balloon should reach the earth's stratosphere at its highest point.
"Mount Everest reaches about the limit of the troposphere, and then above that is the stratosphere, and my balloon will reach about midway through the stratosphere."
Gravoueille has been working on the project since January during an independent directed study at Isfeld.
He built a capsule which will hold a GoPro camera and a tracking device in styrofoam to protect the equipment from cold temperatures in the earth's stratosphere. The capsule is housed inside a large lunch bag, which will be covered in waterproof tape in case it lands in water upon its return.
A huge latex balloon — which Gravoueille says is about six feet wide when flaccid — will be filled with helium to lift the capsule up about 33 kilometres from the ground. The camera will film the journey up, and Gravoueille expects the latex balloon to expand to about 28 feet in width before it pops and the capsule begins its descent.
He notes the capsule should fall at about 55 feet per second, which is approximately terminal velocity, before a parachute inflates slowing it down for the rest of fall.
Though Gravoueille expects he will see approximately where the capsule will land thanks to his tracking equipment, he says he'll have to retrieve the capsule to see any of the video footage of the trip.
"It's likely that it'll land in water which is better because I won't have to try and climb a tree or go into this really remote forest to find it," says Gravoueille, adding the capsule will have his contact information on it in case someone else finds it before him.
Gravoueille decided to take on the project because he is interested in a career in space technology.
"Since my career choice is based around this kind of thing — transit between the surface of the earth and near-space, and things like that — I thought it would be appropriate to try and do a project similar to that in high school to show that I have the ability to do this and that I'm serious about what I'm going to do in my career," he says.
Gravoueille plans to start engineering studies at North Island College in September, then transfer to the University of Victoria to specialize in mechanical engineering.
"And then I'm hoping that, after my studies at the University of Victoria, I can go into graduate studies at Carleton University or the University of Toronto for aerospace engineering," he says, noting he also plans to start his own business after he obtains some experience working as an engineer.
"I'm just really interested in space technology and kind of the unknown factor that space has to offer, so it's mostly the unknown discoveries that are waiting to be made that I want to help do.
"Also, I find that the biggest difficulty between reaching outer space and earth is mostly that one transit between earth to outer space, so if I could find a way to make that cheaper and easier to do it would be helpful and could expand that industry."
Gravoueille points out the project helped him develop stronger communication skills, learn how important confidence is and the importance of making connections with other people.
He notes his physics teacher Jesse Pendak, principal Jeff Taylor, Telus technician Des Hart, 19 Wing warrant officer Kelly Skulmoski, and Accutech's Dean Morin helped him bring the project to this point.