NASA, eat your heart out. Who needs a multi-billion-dollar spacecraft to study the Earth when you can use a paper plane?
Pictured here is the incredible British mission to send the plane 17 miles into the atmosphere to capture images of the curvature of the globe using a miniature camera.
The plane, which has a 3ft wing span and is made from paper straws covered in paper, was launched using nothing more powerful than a large helium balloon.
The craft soared to 90,000ft before the balloon exploded, freeing the plane to glide back down, taking photographs as it descended.
And the cost of Operation PARIS (Paper Aircraft Released Into Space)? A modest £8,000.
It was all the work of space enthusiasts Steve Daniels, John Oates and Lester Haines, who said they came up with the idea after being inspired by a project last year to send a lump of cheese into space.
The team launched the balloon from a remote spot around 50 miles west of Madrid after gaining permission from the Spanish authorities.
It took an hour-and-a-half to climb to 90,000ft before the expanding helium burst the balloon.
The team tracked the plane using a GPS navigation system as it took another 90 minutes to glide back to Earth and landed in woodland 100 miles from the release point. But for a hole in a wing, their creation was undamaged.
IT consultant Mr Daniels, 42, of Paignton, Devon, said the team had embarked on the project ‘for a laugh’. Although they spent around £8,000 to make it a success, he said he would happily do it all again
The married father of two added: ‘Somebody launched a bit of cheese out of a balloon, which we thought was a bit stupid. We thought we could do something more technical than that.
‘We decided to launch a paper plane because nobody has done that before. It seems really silly but it was brilliant fun.’
The three enthusiasts got together after discussing the project on IT website The Register and were sponsored by Peer One Networking.
Mr Oates, 39, from London, said: ‘We wanted a daft project but we were amazed by how successful it was. We are absolutely delighted. I never thought we would find the plane at all. It could have ended up anywhere and I thought it would be smashed to pieces.’ In July last year a group of West Country cheesemakers launched a block of cheddar into the upper atmosphere to mark the 40th anniversary of the moon landings.
The cheese was also fixed with a camera, and was found intact after landing in Buckinghamshire, 74 miles from the Wiltshire field it was launched from. Unfortunately, the camera had failed after take-off.