The plane, which was made from paper straws and had a 3-foot wingspan, was carried as high as 90,000 feet before the helium balloon that carried it finally popped, releasing the plane to glide elegantly back to Earth.
The British team that designed it equipped the plane with a camera, and it took some stunning first-person video as it fluttered back to Earth. Although it's a bit dizzying in parts, one segment of the flight can be viewed above. Video from the entire flight can be found at the project's YouTube channel here.
Named Operation PARIS (Paper Aircraft Released Into Space) by its founders Steve Daniels, John Oates and Lester Haines, the project's costs weren't quite as cheap as the paper airplanes you may have built during third-grade math class. The three space enthusiasts paid 8,000 pounds out of their own pockets to bring the project to life. They said they embarked on the project "for a laugh", and would happily do it all over again.
The team said they got the idea for the project after hearing about another attempt to launch a piece of cheese from a helium balloon.
"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," said Daniels. "We decided to launch a paper plane because nobody has done that before. It seems really silly but it was brilliant fun."
The fact that the airplane survived its flight back in one piece (save for a small hole in one of the wings) is a testament to the team's technical skills.
A GPS navigation device was installed to track the descent, and it took the plane about and hour and a half to flutter back down to Earth after the balloon burst. Remarkably, the paper plane landed just 100 miles from its release point in a wilderness area not far from Madrid, Spain.
"It’s a world first, I believe," boasted Daniels. "I understand the Australians are going to challenge us and we look forward to that. But we did it first!"
Additional photos and behind-the-scenes information can be found about the project at the tech website The Register.