PYONGYANG, North Korea—North Korea’s much-anticipated rocket launch ended quickly in failure early Friday, splintering into pieces over the Yellow Sea soon after takeoff.
North Korea acknowledged in an announcement broadcast on state TV that a satellite launched hours earlier from the west coast failed to enter into orbit. The US and South Korea also declared the launch a failure.
“The earth observation satellite failed to enter its preset orbit. Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure,” the North’s official news agency said without elaborating.
The North’s admission of failure marked a departure from its past. It has insisted that two previous attempts in 1998 and 2009 to put satellites into orbit succeeded even though both clearly failed.
“Differently from the past launches, the North will find it very difficult to insist the launch was a success as the rocket failed too soon after blastoff and its trajectory was fully exposed to the South and other countries,” Korea University political science professor Yoo Ho-Yeol said.
The Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite was fired from the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Tongchang-ri along the west coast at 7:38 a.m., but failed to reach orbit, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said.
“Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure,” KCNA said.
US, Japan and South Korean officials said hours earlier that the rocket splintered into pieces about a minute after liftoff over the Yellow Sea, calling it a provocative failed test of missile technology.
South Korean defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok told reporters the rocket disintegrated shortly after blastoff.
“A few minutes after the launch, the rocket disintegrated into several pieces and lost its altitude,” he said.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK quoted a defense ministry source as saying the rocket went up to 400,000 feet (120 kilometers) before splitting into four pieces and falling into the Yellow Sea west of the Korean Peninsula.
“North Korea launched a long-range rocket at 07:39 a.m. (2239 GMT Thursday),” South Korea said.
Japanese authorities said that the North Korean “flying object” had fallen into the ocean.
Immediately after the launch, South Korea issued an order urging residents near the inter-Korean border to seek shelter to protect themselves from any debris that might fall from the rocket, Yonhap said.
North Korea has previously said the rocket will place a satellite in orbit for peaceful research purposes, but Western critics see the launch as a thinly veiled ballistic missile test, banned by United Nations resolutions.
In the Philippines, which set up contingency measures in anticipation of the rocket debris that may fall in the northern part of the country, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) Executive Director Benito Ramos said the rocket fell into the Yellow Sea near China five minutes after the launch.
Ramos said he received the text message from Defense Secretary Voltair Gazmin, United Nations Naval attache.
“We are still getting other details,” Ramos said.
In response to the launch, Washington announced it was suspending plans to contribute food aid to the North in exchange for a rollback of its nuclear programs.
The US, Japan, Britain and other nations had been urging North Korea to cancel a launch seen as a covert test of the rocket technology also used to send a long-range missile to strike the US
North Korea refused to back down, saying the rocket would only carry a civilian satellite, touting it as a major technological achievement to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, on Sunday.
Still, the rocket failure is a major embarrassment for Pyongyang, which has invited dozens of international journalists to observe the rocket launch and other celebrations.
It has staked its pride on the satellite, seeing it as a show of strength amid persistent economic hardship while Kim Il Sung’s young grandson, Kim Jong Un, solidifies power following the death of his father, longtime leader Kim Jong Il, four months ago. With a report from Matikas Santos, INQUIRER.net