WASHINGTON — An experimental command center created to police critical U.S. space systems was declared operational earlier this month.

The national space defense center, or NSDC, started running as a 24/7 operation on Jan. 8, the Air Force Space Command announced on Friday. Gen. John Raymond, head of the command, called the event a “significant milestone.”

The NSDC marks the first serious effort to combine military and intelligence community resources to gather and share data about potential threats to U.S. satellites and supporting infrastructure.

“We have officially transitioned the NSDC from an experiment to a functioning 24/7/365 operations center focused on protecting and defending the space domain,” Raymond said in a news release. The center is located at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado,

Officials over the past several months have sought to provide more clarity on the role of the NSDC after a period of confusion.

It all started in November 2016, when U.S. Strategic Command’s Gen. John Hyten announced the opening of a “joint interagency combined space operations center,” known as JICSpOC, to synchronize efforts by the National Reconnaissance Office, the Defense Department and the intelligence community to protect space assets. In April 2017, the JICSpOC was renamed the national space defense center.

Hyten told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the name change was done to better describe the center’s function. But another problem was that the center was getting mixed up with another “joint space operations center” located at Vandenberg Air Force Base, in California, that U.S. Strategic Command uses to detect and tracks objects in Earth orbit. STRATCOM’s JSOC is the focal point for the operational employment of joint space forces.

The ultra-secret NSDC is both a joint and interagency center that is not part of U.S. STRATCOM. The center is expected to be staffed by about 200 personnel. It will focus on “information sharing in space defense operations among the DoD, National Reconnaissance Office, and other interagency partners,” the center’s director Col. Todd Brost said in the news release.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...