NEW: NORAD says the rocket appears to have put an object into orbit
NEW: The launch is "a highly provocative act," the U.S. government says
It comes as a surprise after North Korea had extended the launch window
U.S., South Korea say the rocket launch is a cover for testing ballistic missile technology
Wednesday’s success was a breakthrough for the reclusive, nuclear-equipped state.
The rocket blasted off from a space center on the country’s west coast and delivered a satellite into its intended orbit, the North Korean regime said. The launch followed a botched attempt in April and came just days after Pyongyang suggested that a planned launch could be delayed.
Initial indications suggest the rocket “deployed an object that appeared to achieve orbit,” the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the joint U.S.-Canadian aerospace agency, said in a statement.
North Korea has previously claimed that two other rockets fired in the past 15 years had successfully launched satellites, but other countries say they fell into the ocean before completing the task.
Many nations, such as the United States and South Korea, consider the launch to be a cover for testing ballistic missile technology. The nuclear-armed North has insisted its aim was to place a scientific satellite in space.
Countries around the world quickly condemned Pyongyang’s move on Wednesday, saying it breached U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The South Korean government said the launch was confrontational and a “threat to the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and the world.”
The United States called it “a highly provocative act” that is “yet another example of North Korea’s pattern of irresponsible behavior.”
Washington will work with other countries – including China, Russia and other Security Council members – “to pursue appropriate action,” said Tommy Vietor, a U.S. National Security Council spokesman.
The launch came as a surprise to the United States, which did not expect it to take place Wednesday, a senior U.S. official said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he deplored the fact that North Korea “has chosen to prioritize this launch over improving the livelihood of its people.”
The rocket took off Wednesday morning and flew south over Japan’s Okinawa islands. There were conflicting reports about how many parts fell into the sea.
The Japanese government said it believed one part of the rocket came down in the sea off the Korean Peninsula, a second part dropped into the East China Sea and a third fell into waters near the Philippines.
“It is extremely regrettable that North Korea forced the launch despite our protest,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said at a news conference in Tokyo. “It is not acceptable, and we strongly protest against it.”
South Korea’s semi-official news agency Yonhap reported that President Lee Myung-bak has convened an emergency security meeting in Seoul.
A launch had seemed unlikely to take place so soon after North Korea announced Monday that it was extending the rocket’s launch window into late December, citing technical issues with an engine.
Previous attempts by the North in 1998, 2006, 2009 and April of this year failed to achieve their stated goal of putting a satellite into orbit and provoked international condemnation.
Pyongyang had said this rocket launch would be “true to the behests” of Kim Jong Il, the late North Korean leader and father of Kim Jong Un, head of the ruling regime.
Kim Jong Il died on December 17 last year, so the first anniversary of his death falls within the launch window that North Korea has announced.
Experts had also speculated that Pyongyang wanted this launch to happen before the end of 2012, the year that marks the centenary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea and grandfather of Kim Jong Un.
CNN’s Jethro Mullen and Paul Armstrong in Hong Kong reported and wrote. CNN’s K.J. Kwon in Seoul, Junko Ogura in Tokyo, and Elise Labott, Barbara Starr and Jessica Yellin in Washington contributed to this report.