After joining the Stanford Student Space Initiative high-altitude balloon team, one of our first projects was to build and launch our own high-altitude balloon with a "unique" payload, record its flight path, capture video of its ascent, and retrieve it. This on-boarding project, known as SSI-46 Artemis, was designed to quickly help us learn the skills necessary to launch the team's more advanced balloon systems, and generated some amazing photos.
We used an Arduino Mega to run the avionics software and power a small electric heater that prevented our electronics from freezing in the cold. An on-board GPS module, altimeter, and other sensors would record data onto a SD card, while simultaneously transmitting the data via Satellite using a RockBlock communications device. The GPS data and satellite coms allowed us to find and retrieve the balloon after it fell back to Earth. All of the electronics were held within a large styrofoam box, in order to further isolate it from the harsh conditions of near-space. For our payload, we decided to take a Barbie toy set and make her skydive. Her valiant steed was repainted to be a unicorn, and given a horn (visible at the bottom of the above image)
Images were captured using a GoPro, which generated enough of its own heat during operation to avoid damage to the electronics. The balloon reached a peak altitude of around 22km before exploding from weakening caused by UV damage (the fall starts at 8:58 in video below)
As the payload fell down to earth, it deployed its parachute, and we were able to track down its location and pick it up. In the video above, you can see the mane of the unicorn whipping around as the balloon falls through the thin upper atmosphere.
Our team set off to find the balloon as it landed, and were fortunate to find it just on the side of the road. None of the components were damaged, and we were able to successfully complete all of our key objectives. Unfortunately, the battery on our GoPro died before landing, so we were unable to record most of the descent down to earth. However, both our space diving Barbie and her Unicorn steed were retrieved with the payload, and now have loving new homes. As for me, I now continue to work for the Stanford Student Space Initiative on the balloon-mounted rocket launch platform, which we will use to launch a rocket from near space to above the Karman line, putting it "officially" into space.