In the past decade, we've seen that mini-satellites can provide quite a bit of science. CubeSats are being used for applications ranging from Earth imaging, to simple communications, to science experiments. And in the coming years these small satellites (only a few inches across) are expected to fly to further-flung destinations such as Mars and one of Jupiter's moons, Europa.
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While CubeSats are inexpensive enough for universities and small companies to access, a company called ThumbSat Inc. has a vision of even cheaper space exploration. As the name of the firm implies, a "ThumbSat" is controlled by a tiny circuit board and carries an experiment that is just 48 mm x 48 mm x 32 mm across at most and weighing around 25 grams (0.055lb). What's more, ThumbSat is willing to do more of the mission planning for you than a typical CubeSat, the company says.
"Before you even think about your experiment on a CubeSat, you have to buy a kit, put it together, apply for licenses to launch and transmit from space, find a launch and get together plenty of funding to do it. If you choose the ThumbSat route, all you have to think about is the experiment, and we can help you a lot with that too," wrote Shaun Whitehead in an e-mail to Discovery News.
Whitehead is a British engineer who invented the ThumbSat idea and is also the founder of Scoutek Ltd., a robotics firm that builds components for extreme environments such as underwater and space.
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"In the future, it will get even better, we are planning to provide tools for you to build and fly your experiment virtually before you commit many resources to it ... The main advantages of ThumbSat are timescale and cost - at least an order of magnitude less than a CubeSat mission," he added.