It took more than two years to create, but on a misty morning in May, the Balloon Project was launched.
The Balloon Project is the brainchild of Kosta Grammatis, a 2007 graduate of California State University Channel Islands. To the untrainedeye it looks like giant yellow balloon carrying a clear acrylic box full of complex hand crafted instruments. However, to Grammatis it’s more than just wires, sensors, and aluminum parts—it’s a machine designed to identify and understand the propagation of the ozone depleting pesticide methyl bromide in the atmosphere through air sampling and data collection—a research platform in the sky.
The project allowed him to combine all the academic areas that he enjoys most: science, art and English.
Dozens of others gathered in a grassy area at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in Newbury Park to witness the first launch.
It took a few people to keep the helium-filled, yellow colored balloon from lifting off, but when it was time, the tether on the 13-foot diameter balloon was slowly lengthened and the Balloon Project rose into the morning sky. But there was an unforeseen problem as the warm morning temperatures had given the balloon more lift than had been accounted for. When the clear gondola packed with airsampling telemetry and other equipment was about 30 feet in the air the bottom of the gondola broke and the project had to be eased to the ground for repair.
The second launch, however, was a complete success, and the data and live video feed began rolling into a make-shift base station filled with computers and antennas. The tether keeping the balloon and equipment from floating away was nearly a quartermile long before Grammatis and his support team began reeling it in.
“I feel completely vindicated. All of that hard work, all of the days at the machine shop, the long, long nights of building in my dorm room… It all came together and worked! This has been quite possibly the most exciting day of my life!” said Grammatis.
The Balloon Project was completely designed and fabricated by Grammatis. It earned first-place in the Engineering and Computer Science category at the Twenty-First Annual California State University Student Research Competition held this year at CSU Dominguez Hills.
Kosta was also recognized with the Outstanding Integrative Award, one of CSU Channel Islands’ Mission-Based Awards, for his interdisciplinary undergraduate work.
“Kosta is an amazing student,” said Phil Hampton, professor of chemistry and Kosta’s faculty advisor. “I am going to miss our regular chats which meandered from the Balloon Project to philosophy and life. He successfully followed his dream to a beautiful ending and he has a good reason to be proud of his many accomplishments.”
What’s he going to do next?
Kosta Grammatis recently began his career with SpaceX as an avionics systems engineer. He will be working with unmanned rocket guidance and control systems for the El Segundo-based company. SpaceX was established in 2002 by the PayPal and the Zip2 founder, Elon Musk. SpaceX has developed two brand new launch vehicles, established an impressive launch manifest, and been awarded the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract by NASA to demonstrate delivery and return of cargo to the International Space Station.
Grammatis is a 2007 CSUCI graduate and holds a bachelor of arts in Liberal Studies. His work on the Balloon Project secured his position with the company. Kosta plans to start his own company in the future: “I want to create something that will make a difference in the world.”