Updated at 01:40 a.m. EST on 2012-04-13
North Korea defied international warnings and fired a long-range rocket but it crashed into the sea, drawing global condemnation and the convening Friday of the U.N. Security council to discuss what the U.S. and its allies called a "provocative" move.
In a rare admission, about four hours after the launch, North Korea said a satellite carried by the rocket failed to enter orbit.
"The earth observation satellite failed to enter its preset orbit. Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure," Pyongyang's official news agency said, without providing details.
The admission was in stark contrast to its claim of success in 2009 when the launch clearly failed.
On Friday, the rocket took off from the northwestern county of Tongchang-ri and in just a couple of minutes, splashed down in the Yellow Sea off South Korea, regional officials said.
The first stage of the missile fell into the sea 165 kilometers (103 miles) west of South Korea's capital Seoul, while the remaining stages were assessed to have failed with no debris falling on land, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) said in a statement.
NORAD, a joint U.S.-Canada group that provides aerospace warning, air sovereignty, and defense for the two countries, said that it had "detected and tracked" the launch of the North Korean Taepo Dong-2 missile.
"The rocket flew about one or two minutes before it exploded mid-air," the South Korean defense ministry said in a statement.
Nuclear-armed North Korea had said earlier it would launch the rocket, the Unha-3 (Galaxy-3), that would place a research satellite called Kwangmyongsong-3 (Shining Star-3) in orbit sometime between April 12 and 16.
The United States and its allies saw the launch as a ballistic missile test in disguise, in blatant violation of United Nations resolutions and a February U.S.-North Korean agreement.
The U.S., Japan, and South Korea condemned Pyongyang's defiant move as provocative.
The White House said it was a "provocative" action that "threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments," spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.
"While this action is not surprising given North Korea's pattern of aggressive behavior, any missile activity by North Korea is of concern to the international community.
The United States, Carney said, remains vigilant and is fully committed to the security of its allies, Japan and South Korea.
"It is an extreme provocation and is a serious violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions," Japan's top spokesman Osamu Fujimura said in Tokyo.
North Korea's closest ally China called for "calm" and "restraint" from all sides as condemnation over the launch intensified.
"We hope all relevant parties can maintain calm and restraint, and refrain from acts that would harm peace and stability on the peninsula and in the region," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in a statement.
New North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had shrugged off international pressure and pushed ahead with the launch in conjunction with the 100th birthday of his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the deceased founder of the state.
Some believe North Korea could follow up with a third nuclear test as it did after the rocket launch in 2009.
The 15-member U.N. Security Council meanwhile will meet in emergency session on Friday to consider the possibility of a condemnation of the rocket launch, U.N. diplomats said.
It is unclear what action the Council could take, as North Korea is already one of the world's most sanctioned and isolated nations.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had earlier warned that the satellite launch would be a direct threat to regional security, saying Washington would pursue "appropriate action" at the Council if North Korea went ahead with it.
Russia's envoy to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, had said that all Council members agreed that a launch would be a "violation" of U.N. sanctions resolutions imposed in 2009 after Pyongyang's last nuclear test.
U.N. Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874 condemned and imposed sanctions over previous North Korean rocket launches and nuclear tests.
The U.S. had suspended planned food shipments to the North because Washington said the rocket launch breached a February bilateral deal, under which Pyongyang agreed to a partial nuclear freeze and a missile and nuclear test moratorium in return for 240,000 tons of U.S. food aid.
North Korea has been reeling from persistent food shortages since a famine in the 1990s, and banks on foreign aid to feed its people.
North Korea elevated Kim Jong Un as its new leader following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in December.
He was named first secretary of the ruling Workers' Party at a conference Wednesday.
Reported by RFA's Korean service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.