North Korea confirmed the failure of its rocket (or missile, depending on your interpretation) which launched at 7:39 this morning, local time. The United States, South Korea and Japan all reported that the rocket broke up shortly after launch.

According to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a North Korean Taepodong-2 missile launched at 18:39 EDT before following a trajectory over the Yellow Sea. NORAD reports that the missile's first stage landed in the sea 165 km (about 100 miles) west of the South Korean capital, Seoul. The rocket's other stages are all thought to have landed off shore, and no stage was the missile or its debris deemed a threat, NORAD said. In South Korea's assessment the rocket was reported to have disintegrated into 20 pieces.

Pyongyang has maintained that the rocket launch was for the purposes of putting a satellite into orbit, while the interpretation of the US and its allies is that this was a poorly-disguised missile test. The long-range carrier rocket, Uhna-3, bore the Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 (or Bright Star-3) observation satellite, before exploding 80 seconds into its journey, just as it should have entered its second stage. The Unha (or Galaxy) classification of expendable carrier rocket is said to include an identical delivery system to the Taepodong-2 long-rang ballistic missile. The launch was schedule to mark the centenary of Kim Il-sung's birth, the leader who founded the state and who is constitutionally enshrined as the nation's Eternal President.

KCNA, North Korea's state-run news agency, confirmed the failure five hours after launch. "The Earth observation satellite failed to enter its preset orbit. Scientists, technicians and experts are now looking into the cause of the failure," it said.

In spite of the failure, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney labelled the launch a "provocative action [which] threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments."

According to the US this is the third failure in three attempts by North Korea to launch a long-range missile. "They're not moving forward. If anything they're stuck in place or moved backwards," the Wall Street Journal quotes a senior US administration official as saying. "It does demonstrate that they are not advancing their ballistic missile technology."

Somewhat tempering the official US response, NBC's space analyst James Oberg points out that "space is hard," especially for beginners. "Failure rates in almost every national program start out high, and then diminish," he said.

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