The incredible team at the University of Southampton successfully launched a Windows Phone 7 handset into the stratosphere as a testbed for a series of experiements to further atmospheric research into pollution. Friday's launch utilised a helium filled balloon to elevate a small package to an altitude of 18237 meters/59832 feet. The package contained a Windows 7 phone handset, additional power supply and a commodity digital camera which recorded 1,200 images during the flight.

At maximum altitude the balloon burst (as expected!) and the package returned to Earth via a small parachute. During the flight a custom application on the phone recorded the latitude, longitude and altitude. While in range of the cellular network the application streamed it's data to another application running on Windows Azure.Windows Azure provided the computational "horse power" to project the likely landing point of the package.

This is a great example of inexpensive hardware being combined in a creative way with phone software and a cloud service to enable something (scientific research in this case) that would otherwise have been prohibitively expensive yet which can bring benefit to us all.

The image below shows the team preparing to launch Astra 7

5. ASTRA 7 flight train being prepared for launch by (from left to right) Dr Elizabeth Hart, Neil O_Brien, Dr Steven Johnston and Dr Andras Sobester

The team's write up provides much more information as does Stuart Dredge's article on the Guardian tech blog and Cliff Saran's piece on Computer Weekly.

Kudos to Keith who beat me to it in his post which gives a heads up of the flight's impressive statistics.

The image below shows the package containing the phone at it's maximum altitude

8a. Windows Phone 7 at 18233 meters above South Wales

Congratulations to the Astra 7 team including Dr Andras Sobester, Dr Elizabeth Hart, Dr Steven Johnston and Neil O_Brien. Thanks to Geoff Hughes, Ben Nunney (@bennuk), Will Coleman and Lou Waller for their support

I'm delighted to be able to say that this wasn't a PR stunt - it was serious scientific research as part of The University of Southampton's ASTRA (Atmospheric Science Through Robotic Aircraft) project