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The BBC News article Inmarsat lays big satellite order with Airbus says:

The firm is buying three new spacecraft to augment its Global Xpress system, which provides connectivity to on-the-move and out-of-the-way users, such as those on ships, planes and oil rigs.

European aerospace giant Airbus will build the satellites.

Inmarsat says their novel technologies will make it easier and faster to react to market developments.

For example, rather than taking up a "fixed" position in the sky, as is the case with all the company's current platforms, these new spacecraft will be designed with the expectation that they might have to move around to match demand.

Their telecommunications payloads will also be fully reconfigurable through software updates - not something that is generally practised today.

Is it unusual for satellites in GEO to move around in longitude to adjust to the geographical distribution of customer demand? Are there any current examples of this kind of activity, apart from an occasional one-off major repurposing?

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I have have been working for a while (almost 4 years..) as a Satellite Control & Operations Engineer. According to my experience, a satellite must be located and stayed inside a longitude box. An example image can be seen below:

Longitude Box of Satellite

We had a similar longitude degree restrictions/limitations to keep satellite in that box. So, maneuvers are performing due to that issue in every 2 weeks..

  • First week: E/W, regarding the season.
  • Second week: N/S, regarding the season.

Anyway, changing the satellite's position/location, much bigger than the station-keeping maneuvers, is not a usual thing. I have seen and heard some examples of it, let me share it..

Assume that one company has two longitude rights (one of them is operating and other one is empty) and they have decided to launch another satellite. So, they can decide to re-locate the operating satellite to the empty location then they can put the new satellite into the old longitude location. This can happen due to fuel budget considerations etc. (company's decision), but this can be happen.

A different example can be seen here also.

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