A NASA satellite launched on a mission to track carbon dioxide emissions worldwide had technical problems shortly after its pre-dawn takeoff Tuesday that put in jeopardy its mission to better understand greenhouse gas and climate change.

The Taurus XL rocket carrying the Orbiting Carbon Observatory blasted off at 1:55 a.m. PST from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California's Central Coast, but launch managers shifted to a contingency plan minutes later because the payload fairing failed to separate properly from the spacecraft after it left the atmosphere, NASA commentator George Diller said.

"We have not had a successful launch tonight and will not be able to have a successful OCO mission," Diller said.

The fairing shelters the payload as the launch vehicle flies through the atmosphere.

The carbon observatory is NASA's first satellite dedicated to monitoring carbon dioxide on a global scale. Measurements collected from the $280 million mission were expected to improve climate models and help researchers determine where the greenhouse gas is coming from and how much is being absorbed by forests and oceans.