SEOUL, Feb 7: North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Sunday carrying what it called a satellite, but its neighbors and the United States denounced the launch as a missile test, conducted in defiance of U.N. sanctions and just weeks after a nuclear bomb test.
The U.S. Strategic Command said it had detected a missile entering space, and South Korea's military said the rocket had put an object into orbit.
North Korea said the launch of the satellite Kwangmyongsong-4, med after late leader Kim Jong Il, was a "complete success" and it was making a polar orbit of Earth every 94 minutes. The launch order was given by his son, leader Kim Jong Un, who is believed to be 33 years old.
The launch prompted South Korea and the United States to announce that they would explore the feasibility of deploying an advanced missile defense system in South Korea, which Chi and Russia both oppose, "at the earliest possible date."
North Korea's state news agency carried a still picture of a white rocket that closely resembled a previously launched rocket, lifting off. Another showed Kim surrounded by cheering military officials at what appeared to be a command center.
North Korea's last long-range rocket launch, in 2012, put what it called a communications satellite into orbit, but no sigl has ever been detected from it. "If it can communicate with the Kwangmyongsong-4, North Korea will learn about operating a satellite in space," said David Wright, co-director and senior scientist at the Global Security Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"Even if not, it gained experience with launching and learned more about the reliability of its rocket systems."
The rocket lifted off at around 9:30 a.m. Seoul time (0030 GMT) on a southward trajectory, as planned. Japan's Fuji Television Network showed a streak of light heading into the sky, taken from a camera at Chi's border with North Korea.
North Korea had notified U.N. agencies that it planned to launch a rocket carrying an Earth observation satellite, triggering opposition from governments that see it as a long-range missile test.
The U.N. Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the launch, at the request of the United States, Japan and South Korea, diplomats said.
Isolated North Korea had initially given a February 8-25 time frame for the launch but on Saturday changed that to February 7-14, apparently taking advantage of clear weather on Sunday.