What happened

Shares of space tourism company Virgin Galactic (SPCE -1.93%) jumped nearly 5% this morning, then lost it all, then got some of it back -- cycling from highs to lows and back again. As of 10:50 a.m. EDT, shares of the space tourism pioneer were back up to a 3% gain.

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Image source: Getty Images.

So what

StreetInsider.com is attributing today's volatility to "chatter" that there's a test flight imminent for Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spaceplane, and it appears they're right about that. Newsfilter.io reports today that "private jets used by [Virgin Galactic's] execs are at Spaceport America today," and that this could indicate that "the highly anticipated test flight of Richard Branson's SpaceShipTwo could finally arrive."

Not everyone is convinced. On stocktwits.com, the social media site dedicated to day trading, one wit observed this morning that "everyday, people say the flight is coming, one day they'll be right."  

And for the time being, at least, no official announcement has come from the company.

Now what

Does that matter? In February, Virgin Galactic promised investors it would try its next test flight in May. The next two weeks will tell us whether management can keep that promise, or will keep investors waiting again. Either way, the company probably won't begin commercial operations, or begin collecting revenue and earning profits, before 2022 at the earliest.

By then, rivals Blue Origin and SpaceX may already be sending regular space tourism flights into orbit, and Virgin Galactic will have lost its first-mover advantage. And that's the really discouraging news for Virgin Galactic shareholders: Their company may be racing to join a race it has already lost.