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Do companies/governments ever sell satellites that are already in space to other companies/governments for use? I'm wondering about the sale of the actual physical satellites. Has it ever happened? Is it at all common?

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Yes, it has happened. This news article shows an example: Urthecast Buying Deimos’ Imaging Division and its 2 Satellites

Deimos Space of Spain and Urthecast Corp. of Canada announced a strategic partnership in which Urthecast will purchase Deimos Space’s fast-growing Deimos Imaging division and its two satellites, Deimos-1 and Deimos-2 — both in orbit — for 74.2 million euros ($84.5 million), or about twice the division’s forecasted 2015 revenue.

I don't think this is particularly common, but neither is it the only time this has happened.

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It seems @djr's statement is correct.

A similar thing happened in 2008. AMC-14 failed to achieve geostationary orbit, and was left in a highly elliptical and inclined orbit. After insurance issues were addressed (with an interesting subtext involving orbital maneuver patents note: needs answer!) the US government purchased the satellite, and have used its thrusters to achieve an inclined Geosynchronous, but not Geostationary (GEO) orbit.

Further reading:

Space Travel: Boeing Patent Shuts Down AMC-14 Lunar Flyby Salvage Attempt

Space Daily: SES Negotiating To Sell AMC-14 To US Government Agency

Space News: Insurers Sell AMC-14 Satellite to Pentagon

Wikipedia: AMC-14

Gunter's Space Page: AMC-14

Defense Aerospace: SES Americom Declares AMC-14 Satellite a Total Loss

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ A similar incident occurred in the late 1990s, where a Hughes subsidiary purchased a Hughes satellite from the launch-insurance company. That incident involved the first private lunar flyby. The Hughes subsidiary that bought the satellite used it to provide communications services in the Middle East. The United States military was one of the major customers for the satellite. $\endgroup$ – Jasper Jan 22 '17 at 12:10
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    $\begingroup$ According to the patent, the 1990s incident involved AsiaSat 3. $\endgroup$ – Jasper Jan 22 '17 at 12:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Jasper I wonder if that is the situation discussed in Belbruno's Fly Me to the Moon? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jan 22 '17 at 12:25
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    $\begingroup$ The mission described in Fly Me to the Moon's blurb was completely different (and about 7 years earlier). $\endgroup$ – Jasper Jan 22 '17 at 12:29
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Some of the companies owning the satellites either merge or sell out to other companies, like PanAmSat, sold to Hughes Electronics, News Corp, then a private consortium, and finally Intelsat.

Then you have Iridium, where the company went bankrupt and a new company bought them.

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