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I am wanting my 32km x ~7.5km buried space habitat to be hit with a cataclysmic disaster which changes things from everyday life to a survival lifestyle. I would like the station to be damaged to the point where the powers-that-be decide to just close the doors and walk away, but still habitable enough that some colony inhabitants could band together and work hard to restore it.

I was thinking a very fast moving extra-solar asteroid collides with another asteroid near the station. This fragments both asteroids and sends high speed debris all over the area. The station moves into the path of this and gets torn apart on the surface end from the barrage with "shrapnel" of sorts penetrating pretty deep destroying cities inside.

What is a way for it to happen fast enough that people would still be there -- that the station wouldn't just be evacuated -- especially since a station like this has a pretty advanced radar-based asteroid detection system?

Also, is there anything about this scenario which makes it implausible scientifically?

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    $\begingroup$ Your scenario is quite reasonable. Space is big, and it requires a lot of energy to constantly scan all of space. Thus, you'd aim most of your radar at the plane of the ecliptic, and so not see this incoming extra-solar rock. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Oct 4 '18 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure that "surface end" is valid. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Oct 4 '18 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ A coronal ejection could do the trick, it is orders of magnitude more likely to happen than two asteroids colliding close to a station. $\endgroup$ – Renan Oct 4 '18 at 14:52
  • $\begingroup$ Does it have to be due to a purely eternal event, or can it be due to catastrophic systems failure inside the habitat? I am thinking of the answer regarding the capital ship taking out the spaceport, meaning resupply is impossible. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Oct 4 '18 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ Is this a ground-based or an orbital habitation? You imply 'buried' but state 'the station moves into the path...'. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Oct 4 '18 at 15:20
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It would seem to me that the purpose of this station would be as a mining colony. As such, the 'ore' would be collected in orbit around the asteroid, until sufficient quantities had been accumulated to make transport economical. The asteroid has some gravity, so these 'booms' of ore would have some orbital velocity. I would posit that a resupply ship was in orbit at the same time as a tug was maneuvering to capture and transport the mineral boom. The two catastrophically collide, due to a solar flare damaging their navigation systems. The tug, mineral boom, and resupply ship lose orbit and crash into the station. Maybe add in a last-minute flurry of activity of local tugs taking ore up to the boom, which are critically damaged and add to the catastrophe. This damages the external shielding of the station, allowing the radiation from the solar flare to penetrate deeply into the station.

In would be an unusual coincidence of solar flares, the base being oriented towards the sun due to the rotation of the asteroid, the presence of the loaded ore boom, the tug and the resupply ship. It would be a critical period in navigation such that the navigation systems of the ships could not be shut down to harden them from the solar flares.

Lots of drama, excitement, and converging plot lines.

Take out the docking ports on the station, and critically damage the electrical systems on the lower levels from the effects of the solar flares. The electrical infrastructure would probably not be hardened below the top levels, due to economic constraints, with good reason. Once the top level goes, the lower levels would not be viable, hardened or not. Maybe even throw in a loss of atmosphere from the habitat that can no longer be resupplied. The hydroponics would be on the first levels, to make use of the solar energy. Certainly, most of the solar panels would be taken out by the falling ore.

Perhaps the ore on the asteroid was almost depleted anyway, so there is no longer a financial incentive to bring it back into production. Sufficient resources are left to keep a maintenance level of staff healthy, but no more.

Not sure how much of this fits in with your plot line, but it might be useful for other scenarios.

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  • $\begingroup$ Some great nuggets in here. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – Sam Washburn Oct 4 '18 at 17:58
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A cloud of very tiny space debris, maybe millimeters in size so it doesn't show up on radars, moving at fast speed relative to the station. It doesn't even need to be an asteroid: could be debris from satellite collision like the one that happened in 2009. It would create a cloud of debris, big and small and tiny.

If it happens close to your space station, given the speed involved, it may not have time to move out of the way quickly enough, or it could be hit by a cloud of infinitesimal debris later, too small to be detected by the radar but big enough to make holes in the station when it hits, due to the relative velocity. Think of the movie Gravity.

You will not have a massive explosion or whatever, but if part of your station is turned into swiss cheese, there's not much you can do.

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One way to make this happen fast enough is that instead of an extra solar asteroid, it is a large capital ship (on its way to that habitat) crashes into a nearby existing asteroid and it's that explosion that causes the debris.

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    $\begingroup$ I am not sure that it even needs to crash into another asteroid. Crashing into the station would suffice, if it took out critical infrastructure followed by internal explosions. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Oct 4 '18 at 15:27
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Earthquake.

If your builders did not realize their base was on a seismically active celestial body, they might not have built to withstand an earthquake, or moonquake or what have you. Earthquakes can be devastating to underground structures. You could induce your quake with an impact if you like, or tidal forces related to the alignment of other nearby bodies. Or have it happen from forces internal to the planet as with our planet. Or best of all - the mining activities destabilize the substrate and induce the quake, as fracking is doing on our planet.

An earthquake is good drama, because in advance of the event you can have some Cassandra noting signs that such a thing was possible and then being roundly ignored and mocked.

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  • $\begingroup$ I really don't think the asteroid Vesta is prone to earthquakes, but I could be wrong.. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Oct 5 '18 at 23:27

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