Back in August, billionaire Richard Branson announced a coming "shakeup" in the satellite industry thanks to his forthcoming LauncherOne low-orbit delivery system. Instead of the estimated $50 or $60 million it currently costs to launch satellites into space, Branson's private company would offer a comparable service for only $10 million.

While these cost savings are phenomenal for anyone with a major satellite to launch, they're still extremely cost-prohibitive for the everyday scientists just looking to conduct some experiments in orbit.

Enter the ThumbSat, which as its name implies, is a micro-satellite measuring just 16 inches across and equipped with a HD camera, battery, GPS transmitter, and an experiment of your choosing. Aerospace engineer Shaun Whitehead tells Wired that he came up with the idea as a means to give the everyday person a shot at sending experiments into space. Instead of millions, each ThumbSat will cost about $15,000 to launch into low-Earth orbit (roughly 180-300 miles above the planet).

"We get slowed down by old-school ways of thinking," he said. "I hope that ThumbSat accelerates progress in space, inspires everyone to look up."

ThumbSat ground stationsA map of the 60-plus ground stations ThumbSat will use to transmit data back to Earth while in orbit. (Photo: ThumbSat)

ThumbSat will receive its first big test later this year when 20 of the micro-satellites will be launched into space. The initial group includes a group of NASA engineers studying gravitational waves, three teenage sisters conducting experiments on sea monkey eggs and algae, and an artist/graphic designer who will "deploy magnetized fluids and shape-memory alloys."

And lest you think these micro-satellites will lead to a planet surrounded by junk, Whitehead deliberately gave each ThumbSat a lifetime orbit of only 7 to 8 weeks. After that, each one will burn up harmlessly after reentering the atmosphere.

As for what people should do with them, he only has one answer: Don't be boring.

"One of the first (and most boring, to me) applications that people suggest with ThumbSats is taking ordinary images of Earth," he wrote in a paper on the technology. "If that’s your main interest, there are far better platforms than ThumbSat."