Robert Harrison, 38, used a collection of cheap parts costing $750 to create a balloon-mounted camera that can travel up to 21.7 miles above the surface of the Earth. The result is a series of pictures taken from a height that only a rocket or weather balloon can reach. Mr Harrison, an IT director from England, has launched 12 high-altitude balloons since 2008.
The hobby began when he tried taking aerial photos of his house using a remote control helicopter. The experiment failed and Mr Harrison began to research the possibility of using a meteorological balloon to carry a camera. The resulting photographs, which he published online, were so impressive that NASA has been in touch.
"A guy phoned up who worked for NASA who was interested in how we took the pictures," Mr Harrison told The Times of London. "He wanted to know how the hell we did it. He thought we used a rocket. They said it would have cost them millions of dollars."
The contraption comprises an ordinary Canon camera mounted on a weather balloon. Using free software downloaded from the Internet, Mr Harrison reprogrammed the camera to wake up every five minutes and take eight photographs and a video before switching off for a rest.
A GPS tracker enabled him to follow the balloon's progress to an accuracy of 33 feet and to retrieve it upon its return to Earth. Both the camera and the GPS device are wrapped in loft insulation, which traps the heat given off by the devices and allows them to function in -76F temperatures high in the Earth's atmosphere.
At ground level the helium balloon has a diameter of one meter. As it rises, the air pressure drops and the balloon expands to a diameter of up to 20 meters. Eventually, it pops and the camera carried back down to earth by a small parachute.
Here's a look inside the Icarus II. You can see the custom made circuit board at the back, behind the Canon A560 digital camera and its battery pack.
For his project, Robert Harrison designed a custom printed circuit board (PCB).
The exterior of the heat-shielded box containing the camera, circuit board, and battery pack. You can see a GPS antenna at top, and the UV filter in front of the camera.
Describing his first successful launch, Mr Harrison said: “We were sat in a local pub at the time and I was gobsmacked when I got the images. Seeing the highest pictures was amazing — that’s a lifetime achievement.”
A GPS device, some duct tape and a balloon were all that one inventor needed to take some breathtaking pictures of Earth.