Two students from MIT have managed to take pictures of the Earth from space for just $148, and using components available off-the-shelf. Using some pretty innovative design solutions, the pair managed to successfully photograph the Earth from Space. From the article:
The students knew that helium-filled weather balloons were capable of reaching altitudes of 20+ miles, high enough to photograph the curvature of the earth. Weather balloons were also relatively inexpensive; a 300g latex balloon can be ordered online for $20 and can be filled with helium at a party store for $30. If they could keep their camera device light, then a 300g balloon would have enough lift to carry their device into the upper stratosphere.
Temperatures in the stratosphere can get as low as -55°C, and at that temperature, batteries stop working and electronics fail. To get around this problem without resorting to the use of expensive temperature-resistant hardware or heating devices, the pair used a styrofoam cooler and handwarmers pressed tightly against operating electronics to help keep their equipment functioning throughout the camera’s flight.
Locating and retrieving a camera after a near-space launch is a difficult task. Typically, weather balloons are tracked using GPS radio modems which are heavy, cost in the thousands of dollars, and often require complex hardware configurations. In lieu of purchasing a radio modem for their space-bound camera, Lee and Yeh opted to use a $50 GPS-equipped cell phone. The cell phone was secured to the camera and constantly reported its GPS location via text message.