North Korea Defies World, Launches Rocket (Updated: It Failed)

We knew it was coming, and here it is: Pyongyang just pulled the trigger and sent its Unha-3 rocket toward space, to the dismay of everyone who fears a North Korea who can strike the world. Let's follow this firecracker.

Update: Both the US and Japanese governments say the launch failed, with the Unha-3 rocket falling apart shortly after takeoff this morning.

The rocket had been projected to fly over central Australia: one reason why the launch was condemned as destabilising for the region. In late March, a US envoy personally delivered a warning to Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, stating a belief that the plans to launch a satellite into orbit were a veiled long-range missile test that would see North Korean rocket aimed towards South-East Asia and Australia for the first time.

Earlier: The launch was first announced by South Korea's YTN television network.

The Union for Concerned Scientists' David Wright broke the launch scenario down for us in an interview yesterday:

The upper stage of the launcher is designed to carry a lightweight satellite-about 100kg-so it's not clear that structurally it could carry a 1-ton (1000kg) nuclear warhead. But if it could, we estimate this technology could theoretically launch a one-ton warhead to about 10,000-11,000 km ( 6500 miles).

They could certainly launch a 1-ton warhead on the first two stages, and that would have a range of about 7.500 km (5000 miles).

We have not seen North Korea flight test a heat shield for a long-range missile. Because the reentry heating increases with the square of the warhead's speed, the heating would be about 10 times worse for an ICBM than for North Korea's Nodong missile. Heat shield technology is well understood, but you would expect to see a flight test of it if North Korea wanted to have confidence that it could both launch a warhead and get it back to the ground.

And now it's flying through the air.

Update: NBC News reports the White House will issue a statement on the launch shortly.

Update 2: The Aviationist's David Cenciotti points out that there's currently a Korean Air plane on the rocket's project flight path. Ruh roh.

Update 3: ABC news US reports the rocket launch has "failed," according to unnamed US officials.

Update 4: The UN Security Council will convene Friday to discuss the rocket launch, which will in all likelihood be pointless because China is on said council.

Update 5: CNN is reporting "the rocket got off the launch pad but broke apart in flight."

Update 6: US officials are now saying the rocket broke up mid-launch as well.

Update 7: ABC US now says "U.S. officials said that the missile is believed to have crashed into the sea," citing a "larger than normal flare seen 90 seconds into flight." North Korea! We had such high hopes this time around.

Update 8: The AP, also citing "US officials," is now saying the rocket may have failed.

Update 9: Japan's defense minister now agrees the rocket broke up.

Update 10: CNN relays Japan's report that the rocket flew for "about a minute" before falling to pieces.

Update 11: This image is currently being broadcast on North Korean state television, which is a pretty accurate representation of today's grand failure.

Update 12: The White House, sternly and with certain private cheers, chimes in:

Despite the failure of its attempted missile launch, North Korea's provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments. 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 remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations, and is fully committed to the security our allies in the region.


North Korea is only further isolating itself by engaging in provocative acts, and is wasting its money on weapons and propaganda displays while the North Korean people go hungry. North Korea's long-standing development of missiles and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not brought it security – and never will. North Korea will only show strength and find security by abiding by international law, living up to its obligations, and by working to feed its citizens, to educate its children, and to win the trust of its neighbours.

CNN reports a chair reserved for an official announcement in the carefully planned North Korean press room is simply sitting empty, with the dictatorship refusing to even acknowledge the apparently failed launch.



    And the evil west has triumphed again by making the rocket fall apart. (Nothing to do with farmers trying to build rockets)

      I wouldn't denigrate them in such a way. It might be a shoddy political system, but I'm pretty sure those scientists and engineers know a lot more about rocket building than either you or I ever will.

      With rockets, accidents happen a lot, even in the west and this WAS a test.

        "I’m pretty sure those scientists and engineers know a lot more about rocket building than either you or I ever will."

        You realise they kidnapped a LOT of South Korean and Japanese scientists in the decade following the end of the Korean War, and even now are rumoured to do this sort of thing. It's an old joke that once you visit Korea, you'll be kidnapped and tortured into releasing a press statement that you love your new home country and never want to leave.

        I've played a lot of Kerbal Space Program and can verify that yes, things do go wrong a lot when you're testing out new rocket designs.

    What are the chances of western powers scrambling to recover the remains, if any?

    So much fear, so little reason.
    Even Pyongyang knows that if he so much as shoots a rubber band in the general direction of the USA or it's allies, him and his little nation will end up a smoking crater 3 minutes later.
    And if posturing dictators care about one thing, it's their own well-being.

      Err... Pyongyang is a city, not a person ...

        I suppose it's like referring to 'Canberra' or 'the White House' when referring to governments.

    120KMS!!! WOOO!!!!! The almighty Super King of all that is has made a rocket fly 120 KM!!!!!!!

      Then he went and bowled a perfect 300 and got a 38(?) par on a golf course somewhere..........

    I was saying this morning, maybe North Korea should talk to the fellas at TopGear on how to make rockets, after they managed to launch a Robin Reliant into the sky.

      For about 60 seconds....

        But it was more reliable than North Korea's and had a friggen car on it :D

    If these guys are one of our greatest enemies I think we'll be alright.

      North Korea isn't one of our greatest enemies, for those look to Iran, China and Russia.

        I think you'l find that there are currently no countries that are at war with or enemies of Iran, China and Russia.

          does not mean they won't blow us up if we disagree too often...Iran is all to happy to blow up Israel and give weapons to Israel enemies, which is therefore the West/US...So yes Iran is 'pretty much' at war with us

            The only one going around blowing up people that don't agree is the U.S. ...

            "So yes Iran is ‘pretty much’ at war with us"

            Maybe you need to find out what 'at war' means. It seems the whole concept of war-by-proxy or war of ideology somehow eluded you in high school, but maybe you should brush up on the whole Vietnam/Korea/Cuba thing.

        Russia? Please.

        "greatest enemies" have you been listening to the GOP debates or something? It's a global economy, what the hell makes you think these are our 'greatest enemies'? This isn't the cold war, Russia is no threat to us. Nor is China, who is our biggest trading partner and a huge benefit in letting us reap the mining boom.

        Go back to your Tom Clancy.

    Unfortunately with the way our governments have behaved other the last thirty years I believe their claims the rocket blew up just as much as I believe north Korea saying everything went fine. The west should just be the bigger man, step up and help them put there satellite up in space so there dead president can hear some tunes. Then we can all go get some Maccas and kick the footy together.

    All of NK's theatrics remind me of Butters when he goes evil and tries to destroy the world :P

    It was doomed to fail the second they wrote 'mighty penis' on the side!

    While it would not be immediately obvious, China is probably taking their own measures to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons as it's almost certain that if North Korea were to attempt to build a bomb; it would detonate by accident, and the radioactive fallout would contaminate the air & water on Chinese territory.
    China should really start taking the lead to encourage North Korea to become a viable trade partner, though - North Korea is a potential market for construction, agriculture, and manufacturing; and as the world economy is starting to implode on itself, potential markets are hard to find.

      A question - why is it when there is a major international crisis does China not send in the troops like the West/NATO does?

      you never hear anything about china sending aid or troops to help clean up the mess of dictatorships, civil wars (are there Chinese UN peacekeeps?)

        So ignorant. China is one of only five nations in the UN Security Council (including USA, UK, Russia and France), so think for a second before you make dumb statements like that. Yes, their peacekeepers do pick up a tonne of slack in the troubled third world that you don't seem to care for or the western media doesn't bother highlighting. How about you read some news and realise that significant Sub-Saharan infrastructure can be credited to the Chinese in the past decade, or that their manufacturing bases are being expanded into other territories like South America?

        China's nominal neutrality regarding North Korea stems from their traditional alliance in the latter half of the 20th century. Even though China is one of NK's remaining allies, it's causing tension as China seeks a more prominent position in global politics. China can't tell NK to just chill out because they share a land border and any potential agitation can cause a humanitarian disaster as they already have a big illegal immigration problem.

        This is a highly simplified recap of basic geopolitics, but maybe it'll stop you going all Tom Clancy on us.

    Hans Brix will be very angry! He will write a very angry letter from the desk of the UN.

      Because China is opposed on principle to foreign government intervention in the affairs of other nations, having been on the receiving end of it many times in its history.

    I feel sorry for North Korea. Come on North Korea build a better rocket!!!

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