What happened

The news out of space tourism start-up Virgin Galactic Holdings (NYSE:SPCE) in November was mixed at best, but that didn't stop the stock from surging 52.8% for the month, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Investors here are focused on the big picture, not the near term, and success from one of Virgin Galactic's non-public rivals likely helped fuel the push higher.

So what

Virgin Galactic is a very young company, and investors got a reminder of that early in the month when the company reported a quarter in which it lost more than expected and booked no revenue.

The company had originally hoped to be flying tourists into space at $250,000 per ticket by now, but the pandemic has delayed those plans.

The interior of Virgin Galactic's space ship.

Image source: Virgin Galactic.

During the month, Virgin Galactic announced a new delay after the state of New Mexico, where Virgin's spaceport is located, imposed a new two-week lockdown to fight the pandemic.

But the company said it still expects to begin commercial flights in 2021. It also won some additional NASA payload business, a second potential source of revenue in the quarters to come.

Virgin Galactic also likely benefited from SpaceX's successful launch of four astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX is not public, and a lot of the enthusiasm about that company tends to show up in Virgin Galactic shares.

Now what

Virgin Galactic remains an investment with high risk and high potential reward. If all goes as well the company could turn into an impressive growth story. But space is full of risk and the market for tourism there is uncertain, and it could all still go terribly wrong for the company's business plan.

The stock in its first year of trading has been volatile, and I'd expect that to continue into 2021 as we get closer to the potential first launch. This is a story that will play out over the next few years, not months, and investors are likely to see more wild swings in the stock price while we wait to see how it turns out.

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.