The US has said North Korea will face "serious consequences" after launched a long-range rocket in defiance of international warnings.

Set off from the country's west coast only two hours after an eight-day launch window opened on Sunday morning, Pyongyang insisted the action was part of a peaceful space program and that it had successfully put a new Earth observation satellite into orbit.

But Susan Rice, US national security adviser, labelled the launch "reckless".

“North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs represent serious threats to our interests including the security of some of our closest allies and undermine peace and security in the broader region," she said in a statement.

"We condemn today's launch and North Korea's determination to prioritise its missile and nuclear weapons programs over the well-being of its people, whose struggles only intensify with North Korea’s diversion of scarce resources to such destabilising activities."

According to North Korean state TV, the Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite was now orbiting earth every 94 minutes.

The announcer added that North Korea - which carried out its fourth nuclear test last week - had a right to develop a “peaceful space programme” and that the satellite launch marked a “breakthrough in boosting our national defence capability”.

John Kerry, American Secretary of State, described it as a “provocation” and “destabilising” to peace. He said the US would work alongside the UN Security Council on “significant measures” to hold North Korea to account.

The rocket launched at around 9.30am Seoul time, and, according to Japan’s Fuji Television Network, a streak of light could be seen in the sky at China’s border with North Korea. 

North Korea had notified UN agencies that it planned to launch a rocket carrying an Earth observation satellite, but the move was seen by opposition governments as a long-range missile test. 

UN secretary Ban Ki-Moon called the launch “deplorable” and called on North Korea to halt its actions.

South Korea said that it would begin discussion on the United States on deploying an advanced missile-defene system to counteract North Korea's growing weapons capabilities. China, which considers North Korea an ally, also cautioned North Korea about its weapons and issued a statement saying it "expressed regret" over the launch.

Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the launch could not but provoke a "decisive protest", adding Pyongyang had once again demonstrated a disregard for norms of international law.

"We strongly recommend the leadership of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea think about whether a policy of opposing the entire international community meets the interests of the country," the statement read.

An emergency UN Security Council meeting was due to take place on Sunday in New York to discuss whether an international response is required.

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