Chalk-up a big catch for the new guys. As reported in the Wall Street Journal by Andy Pasztor (subscription required), SpaceX Rocket to Carry Loral Satellite. Even better, SpaceX beat the Russians and French on price.
As for the first test-flight of Falcon 9, “Most likely, some set of unexpected things will happen that push launch to May or June,” according to Elon Musk. Three such flights are scheduled for this year. As its launcher development and flight test program progresses, SpaceX collects progress payments from NASA, so any fall-off of their testing schedule could have a financial impact on the company. Also, according to Pasztor, NASA engineers are helping SpaceX with Falcon 9’s falling insulation issues.
Something to think about is, once the Shuttle is retired, and if Constellation is canceled, this dynamic will not exist as SpaceX and unknown other launch companies will be the only option for launching astronauts into low-earth orbit.