While I was answering another question on How closely spaced are satellites at GEO I came to realize I can't really word it with much conviction how two close proximity satellites in GEO/GSO orbits approach each other and at what point would they theoretically come the closest. I will try to explain my current understanding:
When observing GEO/GSO orbited satellites from the surface of the Earth, they would appear to make a circle on the night sky whose radius is defined by the satellite's inclination to the equator. The circle would have its center on the equatorial plane at the longitude the satellite is stationed at, usually defined as an angle to the prime meridian in the Eastern to Western direction (but could be differently). If this is more or less correct, then since these satellites are geosynchronous to the rotation of the Earth on its own axis this circle on the night sky (or as a projection for their ground track on the Earth's surface) they make in their orbit should translate to a wave function with the inclination being the wave's amplitude and frequency at the same time, if the Earth didn't rotate. I can draw both these orbits and distances of two satellites with similar longitude and inclination well enough from the ground up or the bird's-eye view, that's not a problem and so far so good, I hope. Correct me if I'm wrong though.
But here's the thing; If two GEO/GSO satellites have inclined orbit that by definition has to intersect the equatorial plane split in the middle (I'm not thinking here of levitated orbits, just the vanilla GEO/GSO ones), if they were at the same altitude, wouldn't their orbits intersect too, preferably exactly on the equatorial plane so their orbits are stable? So all this got me thinking, which orbital elements (or a combination of them) exactly defines the minimum separation between two GEO/GSO orbital bodies? My intuition says it would have to be the longitudinal separation, since it defines their orbital position at any time, but would I be correct in assuming that, or should I correct my calculations in the mentioned answer?
Additionally, if there is some way to show this in pictures, I'd appreciate if you could include some in your answer. Hand drawings will do just fine, if you can't find any online that were already prepared. In short though, I would like you to describe the orbital path two close proximity GEO/GSO satellites make in relation to one another, and not from the frame of reference of the body they orbit (in our case the Earth's surface) and at which point would these two satellites come the closest to each other?
Calculations would be appreciated, and if you need an example to work with, then you can use orbital elements of Astra 2C and Astra 1KR that were both slotted at longitude of 19.2° East during 2006-2007 and 2010-2013:
Name: Common name: Orbit: Inclination: ------------------------------------------------------- 01025A ASTRA 2C 19.2174576° 0.078° 06012A ASTRA 1KR 19.2189152° 0.083°
My simple maths tell me they were theoretically separated by mere 1.1 km at their closest approach, and I based that assumption on their longitudinal separation of 0.0014576° (5.25") and took their altitude from the GSO semi-major axis at exact altitude of GEO, 42,164 km (26,199 mi) from the center of the Earth.