SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea appeared to successfully fire a long-range rocket today, defying international warnings as the regime of Kim Jong Un pushed forward with its quest to develop the technology needed to deliver a nuclear warhead.
Pyongyang’s state media quickly claimed that the country had succeeded in its mission of putting a peaceful satellite into orbit with its long-range Unha-3 rocket. Officials at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, said North Korea appeared to have put an object into space.
The launch was something of a surprise, as North Korea had indicated technical problems with the rocket and recently extended its launch window to Dec. 29.
The United Nations, Washington, Seoul and others see the launch as a cover for a test of technology for missiles that could be used to strike the United States. The White House called the launch a “highly provocative act that threatens regional security.”
Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said officials would likely have to wait a day or so to see if the United States can track anything that might have been placed in orbit by North Korea.
Success would be defined as “something that completes at least one orbit of the Earth,” he said. But “clearly this is much more successful than their last attempt. It’s at least as good as they’ve ever done. They’ve proved the basic design of it.”
A similar launch in April broke apart shortly after liftoff, and the condemnation that attempt received is likely to be repeated.
Rocket tests are seen as crucial to advancing North Korea’s nuclear weapons ambitions. North Korea is thought to have only a handful of rudimentary nuclear bombs. But Pyongyang is not yet believed capable of building warheads small enough to mount on a missile that could threaten the United States.