SpaceX conducted a static fire test of the Falcon 9 rocket April 25 in preparation for an April 30 launch to carry NROL-76 into orbit. Credit: SpaceX

Weather is looking favorable for a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch late Thursday.

Forecasts call for a 70 percent chance of acceptable weather for the launch, scheduled for 5:55 p.m. Thursday from the Kennedy Space Center.

The Falcon 9 will send a Dragon cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station, with the first stage landing at Cape Canaveral’s Landing Zone 1.

The backup launch date is Saturdayat 5:07 p.m. Eastern. [Florida Today]

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The Missile Defense Agency said it successfully intercepted an ICBM in a test Tuesday. The agency said an interceptor launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base carrying an exo-atmopsheric kill vehicle destroyed a target ICBM-like missile launched from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. The test was the first “live-fire test” of an ICBM-class target for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. [SpaceNews]

The first Proton launch in nearly a year is now scheduled for June 7. The most recent slip in the schedule for the launch was caused by a week-long quality audit of Proton launch ground operations by the Russian state space corporation Roscosmos in mid-May. The Proton is now scheduled to return to flight June 7 with the launch of the EchoStar 21 satellite. That launch will be the first for the Proton since the launch of Intelsat 31 in June 2016. [SpaceNews]

A NASA safety panel said that commercial crew vehicles may not be able to meet a safety threshold in their contracts. At its meeting last week, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel said that while Boeing and SpaceX were making progress on improving the safety of their vehicles, they may not be able to achieve a requirement in their contracts that the vehicles have a loss of crew probability of 1 in 270. By comparison, the shuttle program, at the time of its retirement, had an estimated loss of crew value of 1 in 90. NASA would likely have to issue waivers to the companies if their vehicles cannot meet the loss of crew requirement. Both the panel and, previously, NASA officials cautioned against putting too much emphasis on that single value at a metric of a vehicle’s overall safety. [SpaceNews]

An H-2A rocket is scheduled to launch a Japanese navigation satellite tonight. Liftoff of the H-2A from the Tanegashima Space Center is scheduled for 8:17 p.m. Eastern (9:17 a.m. local time Thursday). The rocket will place into orbit the second Quasi-Zenith Satellite, or Michibiki, which will be used to augment GPS signals over Japanese territory. Two more Michibiki satellites are scheduled for launch by next March. [Spaceflight Now]

The European Space Agency will support China’s upcoming lunar sample return mission. Two ESA ground stations, in French Guiana and the Canary Islands, will provide communications for the Chang’e-5 mission during launch and the reentry of the spacecraft’s sample return capsule. Chang’e-5, the first lunar sample return mission by any nation in more than four decades, is scheduled for launch in November. [gbtimes]

NASA will unveil its newest class of astronauts next week. NASA said Tuesday that it will introduce the new astronaut candidates June 7 during an event at the Johnson Space Center. NASA received more than 18,300 applications for the class, and previously said it would likely select between 8 and 14 people. The new astronaut candidates will begin two years of training in August. [NASA]

A Texas highway is being upgraded to support construction of a SpaceX launch site. The $3 million project will improve a stretch of state highway linking Brownsville with the launch site at Boca Chica, on the Gulf of Mexico coast. SpaceX broke ground on the site in the fall of 2014, but has focused its work there since then on site improvements, with construction of launch facilities yet to begin. Local officials said they’re working with the company on site planning and permits that would keep the project on schedule to support a 2018 first launch. [KRGV-TV Rio Grande Valley, Texas]

Canadian astronomers are weighing what the effects will be to their research if the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT)  is moved from Hawaii. Canada is a partner in the TMT, which was originally planned to be built on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Protests and legal challenges have put that project on hold, and the TMT consortium is considering a backup plan to build the telescope in the Canary Islands, on a mountain considered somewhat less favorable in terms of atmospheric conditions than Mauna Kea. A study to be presented at a Canadian astronomy conference this week will argue that the TMT will still be able to do most, but not all, of its planned science if it’s built at the alternate site. [Nature]

“Halos” of rock seen on Mars may be evidence the planet was habitable for longer than first thought. NASA’s Curiosity rover has detected layers of pale silica-rich rocks surrounding fractures on the floor of Gale Crater. Those halos, scientists argue, are evidence that there was substantial groundwater below the surface even after the lake that once existed inside the crater evaporated, which could have supported life there longer than previously thought. []

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...