This is an audio transcript of the FT News Briefing podcast episode: The race to reinvent the space station

Sonja Hutson
Good morning from the Financial Times. Today is Monday, October 3rd, and this is your FT News Briefing.

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The UK’s prime minister faces a growing backlash inside her own party. Meanwhile, Brits are taking to the streets to protest high energy bills. Plus, the International Space Station is being decommissioned and the US space agency Nasa is funding private companies to help continue its work.

Peggy Hollinger
It’s not like we’re gonna start building another space station with Russia right now, are we?

Sonja Hutson
I’m Sonja Hutson, in for Marc Filippino, and here’s the news you need to start your day.

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Today, UK chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng will defend his controversial tax plan to members of his party at their annual conference. His plan unleashed havoc across financial markets. It would scrap the top tax rate of 45 per cent and take on a lot of debt. Many fear it would make inflation worse. The plan is stoking a rebellion inside the Tory party as prominent members speak out against the tax cuts and other measures. The UK prime minister, Liz Truss, is also not budging on the plan, even though she’s been warned she could face defeat in the House of Commons.

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As Tory party members gathered in Birmingham this weekend, protesters gathered around the country to show their frustration with skyrocketing energy prices.

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‘Don’t Pay’ protests like this one in central London are encouraging people to not pay their power bills.

Unnamed protester
We’re still here because our prices are still double from last year. What are you gonna do with your bills?

Crowd
Burn them!

Unnamed protester
What are you gonna do with your bills?

Crowd
Burn them!

Sonja Hutson
One protester stepped forward and threw a mock electricity bill into a fire that was blazing out of a metal trash bin.

Cameron Joshi
My name is Cameron Joshi. I’m 27. I’ve been periodically disabled with a chronic illness since I was 18, so I cancelled mine last month because I couldn’t afford to pay it.

Sonja Hutson
The government began capping energy bills this weekend, but protesters say it’s not enough.

Unnamed protester
It’s absolutely ludicrous that our energy bill price cap is double what it was last winter and they’re offering us only £400, £66 a month to try and help us with that.

Unnamed protester
And I know many people that are working, but they can’t afford the rent. They cannot afford a normal life.

Sonja Hutson
‘Don’t Pay’ protests weren’t the only demonstration this weekend against the soaring cost of living in the UK. Train drivers and postal workers were on strike, and so were nurses, teachers and public defence lawyers.

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As much of the world struggles with high energy prices, Opec and its oil-producing allies plan to prop up prices with a substantial cut in production. The group meets on Wednesday and could cut more than a million barrels a day. That’s the largest cut since the early days of the pandemic. The group is led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, and sources told the FT that the Saudis are eager to lower output, not just to prop up prices but also to keep some production capacity in reserve. They’re nervous about a sharp drop in Russian oil output later this year when western powers tighten sanctions.

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The greatest global collaboration in the history of technology has been the International Space Station, and the ISS is on its way out. After 22 years, hundreds of astronauts from 20 different countries and countless scientific advances, the ISS will be decommissioned by the end of the decade. The US space agency Nasa has already started awarding contracts to private companies to come up with a replacement. To talk more about this, I’m joined by the FT’s Peggy Hollinger. Hey, Peggy.

Peggy Hollinger
Hi, how are you?

Sonja Hutson
I’m doing well. Thanks for asking. So, Peggy, can you remind us why the International Space Station is so important to begin with? You know, what’s its value and what’s its purpose?

Peggy Hollinger
That’s a complicated question. Its value is not just in the fact that unique experiments can be conducted in microgravity, a sort of environment that’s very difficult to replicate here on Earth, but it’s also in the international collaboration. In the space station, 450-80km above the earth, we’ve got Russians working with Europeans, working with Americans, working with Japanese. It truly is a sort of a properly working United Nations in space.

Sonja Hutson
So why is it being decommissioned then?

Peggy Hollinger
The space station is already flying long beyond its expected life. Its life has been extended a few times. And really, there comes a point when technology has moved on and what you’ve got in the space station, you know, can be much better designed. The big question is — because it costs so much to keep flying, it costs so much to build, it really did require international co-operation to build — how do you replace it? It’s not like we’re gonna start building another space station with Russia right now, are we? So who’s gonna fund this?

Sonja Hutson
Why is Nasa moving towards privatisation and what would that actually look like?

Peggy Hollinger
So, if you’re not going to partner up with Russia again, how are you gonna fund it? And really the answer seems to be, in Nasa’s playbook, seems to be the private sector. So Nasa needs a low-Earth orbit capability for its own scientific experiments. The US government wants to ensure a permanent human presence in low-Earth orbit because the low-Earth orbit economy is developing so quickly. So why not bring the private sector in to help fund some of that? And why not rent space on private space stations rather than own it and have to foot the bill for the operating costs, which are, you know, 3-4bn a year.

Sonja Hutson
So is this business model going to work? Nasa funding private companies to do what Nasa wants to do — is that feasible?

Peggy Hollinger
Well, this is the big question, isn’t it? Because if Nasa is going to rely on the private sector for its needs, you know, to have human presence in low-Earth orbit, it damn well better be sure that these companies it places its contracts with are viable. It’s very, very clear that none of them can survive, certainly in the early years, without substantial government support, ie contracts from Nasa. And they’re all saying that they believe the contract from Nasa is likely to be around 1-1.5bn. So that will keep them going nicely until they can attract other customers for their space stations. But there are some who believe that, you know, ultimately, a) there’s not much room for more than one private space station because the more you begin to spread Nasa’s needs across different stations, the more difficult it is to survive and build that commercial business. But then again, demand might appear from places that we can’t envisage right now.

Sonja Hutson
Peggy Hollinger is the FT’s international business editor. Thanks, Peggy.

Peggy Hollinger
Thank you very much.

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Sonja Hutson
Before we go, Apple’s made a big shift. It’s producing its iPhone 14 in India. It’s the first time Apple is manufacturing the newest phone outside China so soon after its release. Usually, Apple only manufacturers in India or other countries once it’s confident that production of the new device is going smoothly. India has been trying to become a bigger player in the global electronics supply chain, so this is a big win. Other countries are also benefiting as Apple shifts production outside China. The company’s already tested out AirPod production in Vietnam and plans to build iPads and Apple Watches there too.

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You can read more on all these stories at FT.com. This has been your daily FT News Briefing. Make sure you check back tomorrow for the latest business news.

This transcript has been automatically generated. If by any chance there is an error please send the details for a correction to: typo@ft.com. We will do our best to make the amendment as soon as possible.

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