SEOUL, South Korea — Defying weeks of international warnings of more censure and further sanctions, North Korea launched a rocket on Friday, which Washington feared was a cover for developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that one day might be able to carry a nuclear warhead.
The three-stage rocket, called the Unha-3, blasted off from the Soehae launch site near North Korea’s western corner with China, at about 7:39 a.m., said Kim Min-seok, spokesman for the South Korea Defense Ministry. There was no immediate announcement of the launch from the North, and there were unconfirmed indications that the rocket may have failed or malfunctioned.
“The South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are collecting further data to confirm whether the launch was successful or not,” Mr. Kim said.
North Korea had said the Unha or Galaxy rocket would fly southward, carrying its Kwangmyongsong-3 communications satellite, and has insisted the launch was for peaceful purposes. The North’s two previous attempts to put versions of Kwangmyongsong into orbit — one in 1998 and the second in 2009 — both failed to reach the required altitudes, according to experts.
South Korea, Japan and the Philippines — the countries near the North Korean rocket’s projected trajectory — were on heightened alert in case the launching went awry and might endanger their citizens or properties. Airlines and ships had been ordered to stay away from the rocket’s trajectory and the splashdown zones of its debris.