THE rocket fired by North Korea on Friday disintegrated shortly after blast off, South Korean officials said.
"A few minutes after the launch, the rocket disintegrated into several pieces and lost its altitude," defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok told journalists.
North Korea fired a long-range rocket early Friday, South Korean and U.S. officials said, defying international warnings against moving forward with a launch widely seen as a provocation.
The rocket took off at 7:39am local time from a new launch facility in the country's northwest corner and flew south over the Yellow Sea on a path toward Japan's Ryuku Islands, the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The rocket's first stage fell into waters near the South's Jeju Island, according to South Korean media reports.
A US official later told FOX News Channel that early indications suggested that the launch may have failed at some stage.
The senior official, who was not named, said initial data suggested the rocket broke apart inside the Earth's atmosphere.
The official said there was no indication that any part of the rocket fell on population centers.
"It didn't fail on the launchpad," the official, who was not named, said. "But there are indications it wasn't fully successful."
South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told reporters in a nationally televised news conference in Seoul that North Korea had launched the rocket around 7.39am local time (0839 AEST) on Friday.
He said officials were trying to determine whether it was a success. He provided no further details, and declined to say how South Korea confirmed the launch in the west coast hamlet of Tongchang-ri.
But sources within the ministry told CNN that Seoul believed the rocket did not even make it to the first stage and had failed within minutes of its launch.
Two South Korean military vessels, as well as helicopters, had been dispatched to the area to search for debris. It was not immediately known if the North Koreans had also dispatched their own team to the area.
The debris fell into the sea some 190 kilometres-200 kilometres (118-124 miles) west of (the southwestern port of) Kunsan," a high ranking military source was quoted as saying by Yonhap.
The rocket took off from a new launch facility in the country's northwest corner and flew south over the Yellow Sea on a path toward Japan's Ryuku Islands, the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia, The Wall Street Journal reported.
There was no word in Pyongyang about the launch, its third attempt to send a satellite into space since 1998.
North Korea had earlier announced it would send a three-stage rocket mounted with a satellite as part of celebrations honoring national founder Kim Il Sung, whose 100th birthday is being celebrated Sunday.
Space officials say the rocket is meant to send a satellite into orbit to study crops and weather patterns - its third bid to launch a satellite since 1998.
The United States, Britain, Japan and others, however, have called such a launch a violation of U.N. resolutions prohibiting North Korea from nuclear and ballistic missile activity.
Experts say the Unha-3 carrier is the same type of rocket that would be used to launch a long-range missile aimed at the U.S. and other targets. North Korea has tested two atomic devices but is not believed to have mastered the technology needed to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has warned that the launch would be a direct threat to regional security and said the U.S. would pursue "appropriate action" at the U.N. Security Council if North Korea goes ahead with it.
According to projections, the first stage of the rocket was to fall into the ocean off the western coast of South Korea, while a second stage would fall into waters off the eastern coast of the Philippine island of Luzon.
North Korean space officials have dismissed assertions that the launch is a cover for developing missile technology as "nonsense."
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