For makers interested in space, high-altitude balloons represent an incredible opportunity. Launching a rocket that can reach the upper atmosphere is expensive and difficult. But, with a high-altitude balloon, makers can reach the edge of space fairly easily and at a relatively low cost. The downside is that retrieving a camera or tracker after it drops back to Earth can be difficult. Izzy Brand has found a practical solution to that problem with a glider that can fly to a precise pick-up point.
The glider was constructed from inexpensive foam core board and corrugated plastic in order to keep costs down and durability up. Onboard the glider is a Raspberry Pi Zero, a Pixhawk flight controller with GPS, servos for steering, cameras, and a GPS tracker. Notably, the cameras and GPS tracker are not necessary for the flight, as the glider can reach it’s destination autonomously with no radio contact with the ground. The GPS tracker is just there in case it landed off course, and the cameras are there to film the journey.
After first testing the setup in a series of low-altitude drops from a drone, Brand then moved on to a high-altitude balloon drop at 6.25 miles — cruising altitude for a commercial airliner. The total flight took just over two hours to complete, and the glider traveled a total of 122 miles in that time. It reached a maximum speed of about 212 mph, and eventually landed 10 meters (about 30 feet) from the target landing point. For future flights, Brand plans on dropping from even higher altitudes.