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What is the difference between a geostationary and geosynchronous orbit?
Both geosynchronous and geostationary satellites are located at an altitude of 22,238 miles above the Earth's surface.
There is a clear distinction between a geosynchronous orbit and a geostationary orbit. The early recognition of a geostationary orbit was made by the Russian Konstantin Tsiolkovsky early this century. Others referred to the unique orbit in writings about space travel, space stations, and communications. It was probably Arthur C. Clarke who was given the major credit for the use of this orbit for the purpose of worldwide communications.
The geostationary orbit is one where a spacecraft or satellite appears to hover over a fixed point on the Earth's surface. There is only one geostationary orbit in contrast to there being many geosynchronous orbits. What is the difference you ask? A geosycnchronous orbit is one with a period equal to the earth's rotational period, which, contrary to popular belief, is 23hr-56min-4.09sec., not 24 hours. Thus, the required altltude providing this period is ~22,238 miles, or ~35,788 kilometers. An orbit with this period and altitude can exist at any inclination to the equator but clearly, a satellite in any such orbit with an inclination to the equator, cannot remain over a fixed point on the Earth's surface. On the other hand, a satellite in an orbit in the plane of the earth's equator and with the required altitude and period, does remain fixed over a point on the equator. This equatorial geosynchronous orbit is what is referred to as a geostationary orbit. The orbital velocity of satellites in this orbit is ~10,088 feet per second or ~6,877 MPH. The point on the orbit where the circular velocity of the launching rocket reaches 10,088 fps, and shuts down, is the point where the separated satellite will remain. This very popular orbit is saturated with TV broadcast, government, international, maritime, meteorological, military, domestic and shortwave radio satellites.