The data collected from the Orbiting Carbon Observatory were expected to improve climate models and give researchers a better sense of where greenhouse gases originate, how much is being absorbed by forests and oceans, and how they affect the earth's climate.
"Certainly for the science community it's a huge disappointment," said John Brunschwyler, according to the Associated Press. "It's taken so long to get here."
Brunschwyler is Taurus project manager for Orbital Sciences Corp., the company that built the rocket and the satellite.
NASA said it would further investigate the crash but preliminary reports indicate that minutes after launch, the payload fairing -- a clamshell cover that protects the satellite during launch -- failed to separate from the Taurus XL rocket.
The rocket took off just before 2 a.m. Pacific time from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base. The 966-pound satellite was set to orbit about 400 miles above earth. According to NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory spokesman Alan Buis, the liftoff went smoothly.
Carbon dioxide emissions at low altitudes are currently measured with aircraft and 282 land-based stations. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory was NASA's first satellite dedicated to monitoring carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas that contributes to trapping heat from the sun.
On Jan. 23, Japan launched a satellite dedicated to monitoring greenhouse gas emissions by measuring the density of carbon dioxide and methane, the Associated Press reported. It will collect data from 56,000 points across the globe.