The $273 million satellite launched at 4:55 a.m. EST from Vandenburg Air Force Base in California, then plummeted back down when it failed to make orbit. It landed in frigid ocean waters just short of Antarctica.
U.S. & World
"Certainly for the science community, it's a huge disappointment," NASA program manager John Brunschwyler told CNN.
A part of the satellite called the "payload fairing" that was supposed to separate from the rocket instead stayed attached - and the additional weight of the fairing brought the satellite down, NASA said.
The satellite - also called the Orbiting Carbon Observatory - was designed to collect carbon dioxide measurements in the Earth's atmosphere to better predict movements in global warming.
NASA researchers spent eight years developing the OCO, the first NASA satellite to measure carbon dioxide levels on a global level.
Internal investigations are being conducted to determine more specific causes of the failure.