US defence officials confirmed that the rocket flared brightly and apparently exploded about 90 seconds into flight.
Pyongyang had hoped to blast a satellite into orbit – its third attempt in 14 years – in what the west had called a covert test of missile technology and a violation of international resolutions.
But the launch quickly turned into a PR disaster when the Unha-3, or “Milky Way”, rocket fell apart minutes into the mission.
North Korea had claimed it was designed to study crops and weather patterns from space.
Officials from the country had invited foreign journalists to cover the event, but didn’t invite them to the actual launch.
The cost is estimated by South Korean intelligence officials at $850 million, nearly enough to feed about 80% of the population of the impoverished nation for a year.
North Korean officials confirmed the explosion, saying that the satellite had “failed to enter orbit.”
In another humiliation, the launch put a halt to a deal brokered by the Obama administration which saw North Korea receive hundreds of thousands of tons of food aid in return for a halt in nuclear and missile tests.
The administration confirmed that it will suspend 240,000 tons of food aid promised as part of the agreement in February.
The launch was intended as an international show of force, and as a way of re-affirming credibility for the new leader, Kim Jong Un, after the death of his father, Kim Jong Ill, in December last year.
Analysts believe the rocket failure to be further confirmation of the failed state’s inability to project force in the region, and greatly undermines its political and economic credibility worldwide.
It also undermines North Korea’s reputation as a global arms and technology exporter.
Doubts over the quality of the design and construction of the North Korean rocket were confirmed when it also emerged that the highest paid technical labourers in the country are paid less than $60 per month.
Their counterparts in South Korea – engineers and computer programmers – make about $5,000 a month. Thats more than a 8200% difference in salaries.
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