What happened

Shares of Virgin Galactic (NYSE:SPCE) -- up again and down again all last month -- are up again today, rising 4.5% through 1:20 p.m. EST.

So what

Why are Virgin shares flying higher? As I mentioned last week, the company test-flew its VMS Eve "mothership" aircraft out of Spaceport America last week, taking another small step toward an anticipated test flight of its VSS Unity spaceplane that the company still says will take place "later this fall."

The confirmation that the spaceplane test is still on the planning board might have been enough to set investor minds at ease. But just in case they didn't notice the mention on Twitter, Virgin Galactic followed up yesterday with a more official announcement on its own website:

"Preparations to deliver Virgin Galactic's first spaceflight from New Mexico later this Fall continue to progress well." Two pilots -- but no passengers -- will be aboard. Virgin will also be carrying "three NASA payloads" to collect data on its spaceflight and generate revenue for Virgin Galactic.  

VSS Unity and VMS Eve on the ground with a sunrise in the background.

Image source: Virgin Galactic.

Now what

Now it won't be a lot of revenue. Still, any money at all will be more than Virgin Galactic collected last quarter. Additionally, Virgin will be testing some features that it plans to offer passengers on commercial spaceflights, which are still expected to begin next year. One such feature is fully reclining seats which will give passengers more room to float around unbuckled. Virgin will also test onboard cameras that passengers will (eventually) be able to use to livestream their experiences to family and friends on Earth.

Finally, Virgin seemed to confirm that it has only two more test flights to go before the spaceplane can begin to operate commercially -- this one and another on which four mission specialists will fly "to test and refine the equipment, procedures, training and overall experience."

Long story short: Commercial spaceflight still won't commence before 2021. Slowly but surely, Virgin Galactic is getting there.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.