U.S. official says the North Korean rocket did not go far and could not be seen on several radar screens, including the National Military Command Center tracking system. The first stage of the rocket landed in the Yellow Sea 165 kilometers southwest of Seoul. Shortly after that, most of the rocket broke up. The first North Korean missile launch in 2006 lasted only 40 seconds; Thursday's failure happened at 81 seconds.
Prior to the launch, North Korea said they intended the move as a peaceful civilian bid to send a satellite into space. The Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite is designed to send back images and data that will be used for weather forecasts and agricultural surveys.
But the U.S. and its allies claimed the real purpose was to test a long-range missile that could reach Alaska with a nuclear warhead. There are fears it could also be sold to Iran or other hostile states.
North Korea acknowledged the failed launch in a television statement Friday. It's a major embarrassment during this week of celebrations for the 100th birthday of North Korea's founder, Kim Il Sung. The celebratory events also include high-level meetings where new leader Kim Jong Un has received at least three new titles to further cement his rule.
A statement from White House press secretary Jay Carney called the failed launch a provocation and a waste of money while the North Korean people go hungry. He said the U.S. remains committed to the security of our allies in the area.
The U.S. has already canceled a deal to provide food to North Korea, claiming it broke its agreement to stop missile development.
Pyongyang said it would launch the rocket between Thursday and Monday, between 7 a.m. and noon local time. Space officials showed foreign journalists the launch control center on Wednesday and said fueling was under way, but they did not comment further on the timing.
The missile was expected to pass over South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines and splash down off the coast of Australia.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.