What happened

Pioneering space tourism company Virgin Galactic (SPCE -12.69%) -- the original space-related special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) -- reported its fourth-quarter and full-year earnings last night. Its stock price promptly crashed after hours, and is down a total of 16% as of 10:35 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning.

But the news wasn't even all bad.  

So what

True, analysts expected Virgin Galactic to lose only $0.51 per share for the quarter, and Virgin Galactic actually lost $0.55, which was a disappointment. On the bright side, however, management easily beat revenue expectations with a $869,000 quarter. (Revenue expectations weren't that high to begin with -- only $340,000.)

Virgin Galactic also told investors that it "remains on track" to begin commercial space launches in the second quarter of 2023 -- just a quarter away. Considering the company's track record of promising to do X on Y date, and then delaying, and delaying, and delaying again, management's confirmation that, so far at least, everything is on track must have come as some reassurance.

And yet the stock is down regardless.

Now what

So why is Virgin Galactic stock tumbling, and should investors expect it to continue falling, or recover?

Well, consider: Over all of 2022, Virgin Galactic racked up $500 million in losses, with selling, general, and administrative expenses rising -- and research and development costs more than doubling -- even as revenue dropped 30%. In order for Virgin Galactic to reverse its slide, this space stock simply must start getting its spaceplanes in the air, fully loaded with paying space tourists, and flying them as often as humanly possible, to try to generate some revenue to offset its staggering expenses.

But even at the highest advertised ticket price of $450,000 per space ride, Virgin Galactic can only expect to generate revenue of $2.7 million per flight. (And even then, only after first working through its supply of tickets sold at $250,000 or less, which will generate revenue of just $1.5 million per flight.)

At the higher price, Virgin Galactic will need to fly at least 185 times a year to offset its losses, while the cheaper flights must fly 333 times a year. All of which means that it's going to be a long time before Virgin Galactic ever sees a profit -- analysts say 2028 at the earliest. That's a long time to ask investors to wait.  

And judging from what's happening to Virgin Galactic's stock price today, they're just not interested in waiting anymore.