What happened

Shares of Virgin Galactic Holdings (NYSE:SPCE) rocketed 5% higher and then fell back to Earth on Friday following the release of quarterly results. Investors aren't sure what to make of the space tourism company right now, and the stock traded down nearly 3% on Friday afternoon as a result.

So what

After markets closed Thursday, Virgin Galactic reported a loss of $0.34 per share in the third quarter, falling short of analyst expectations for a $0.26 per share loss. For the second straight quarter the company had no revenue, but spent about $77 million on research and development and sales and administrative expenses.

Design of the interior of Virgin Galactic's space capsule.

Image source: Virgin Galactic.

Investors knew going into earnings Virgin Galactic is pre-revenue, so the focus is on how long it will take before the company can reverse that trend. The company had originally hoped to launch its first customers into space this year, but is now looking to 2021 to ramp up operations.

"The company is continuing to experience ongoing delays to its business and operations due to COVID-19, which has led to accumulated impacts to both schedule and cost efficiency," Virgin Galactic said in a statement. "This is expected to continue through the fourth quarter and in 2021, though the company has continued to stay on track for its planned upcoming flights."

Now what

The plan remains for founder Richard Branson to fly into space sometime next year, at which time Virgin Galactic intends to reopen ticket sales. The company has about 1,500 reservations based on two prior ticket sale campaigns, and hopes to start working through that reservation list after Branson's flight.

In the meantime, it does appear Virgin Galactic will have some revenue to report in the fourth-quarter release. The company expects its first space flight from its Spaceport America in New Mexico to occur in late November, and it will include revenue-generating NASA payloads.

That would be something, but for Virgin Galactic to become the growth stock investors hope it will be, space tourism will have to become a reality. Maybe that will happen in 2021, but with so much uncertainty, investors on Friday aren't finding much reason to get excited about the third-quarter results.

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.