Washington and its allies say the rocket launch constitutes a missile test banned by the UN because the basic technology is the same as that used in intercontinental missiles.
North Korea is believed to be working on the development of a long-range missile capable of reaching the west coast of the US mainland.
The US called the launch a “highly provocative act that threatens regional security”, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said it was a “clear violation” of the UN resolution.
Japan has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, reports the BBC.
The rocket, launched at 09:49 local time appears to have followed its planned trajectory, with stages falling in expected areas. North Korea says a satellite has been placed in orbit; the US confirmed an object had been put into space.
South Korea, the US and other nations had urged North Korea not to go ahead with the test previous to the launch.
North Korea has not previously successfully launched a three-stage rocket. Its most recent test, in April, ended in failure, when the rocket exploding and crashing into the sea only a few minutes after launching.