Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back Into Space…

Some bad news for those who would keep outer space safe from militarization and dangerous clouds of debris:

Russia is working on anti-satellite weapons to match technologies developed by other nations and will speed up modernization of its nuclear forces, a deputy defense minister was quoted as saying Thursday.

The statement by Gen. Valentin Popovkin signaled the government’s intention to pursue its ambitious plans to strengthen the military despite the money crunch caused by a worsening financial crisis. He said the military will procure enough new missiles to deploy near Poland if the U.S. goes ahead with its European missile defense plans.

Popovkin said Russia continues to oppose a space arms race but will respond to moves made by other countries, according to Russian news reports.

“We can’t sit back and quietly watch others doing that; such work is being conducted in Russia,” Popovkin was quoted as saying. Russia already has some “basic, key elements” of such weapons, he said without elaboration.

The Associated Press has the full story.

The statement comes among deep concerns over a cloud of debris in low Earth orbit created by the recent collision of Russian and American satellites. It also comes two years after China created another giant cloud of potentially deadly debris by destroying an old weather spacecraft with an anti-satellite device.

As if it up the tension, there is this theory being advanced by a retired Russian general that last month’s collision was intentional:

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Leonid Shershnev, identified as the former chief of Russia’s military space intelligence, tells the Kremlin-run RIA Novosti press agency that the cosmic crack-up may have been a test of U.S. space-weapon technology.

Officially, a defunct Russian satellite collided with an American telecommunications bird, one of 66 owned and operated by the Iridium company which relay signals to and from satellite phones on Earth.

Shershnev doesn’t buy it. He thinks the American satellite was really one of the two used in the 2007 Orbital Express experiment, a NASA-Pentagon joint venture in which one satellite hooked up with and refueled another.

I’m not buying this theory. The cloud of orbital debris this collision created is a real nightmare. It’s not good for anyone. I can believe that the Pentagon may not have been able to track satellite orbits accurately enough to prevent the accident. But I can’t believe it was intentional.

You can read all about Shershnev’s theories here.