The U.S. had mobilized four warships in the Asia-Pacific region to monitor the launch. The guided missile destroyers the USS John S. McCain, the USS Benfold and the USS Fitzgerald joined the guided missile cruiser the USS Shiloh to "reassure allies in the region" according to officials.
South Korea's president Lee Myung-bak called an emergency security meeting in response. The timing is particularly sensitive for this country which is still officially at war with North Korea.
In just one week, South Korea holds key elections and will choose a new president. North Korea's successful launch could potentially sway voters favoring either a harsher line or a return to the "Sunshine Policy" of past administrations.
Current ruling party candidate Park Geun-hye has indicated a willingness to hold talks with North Korea.
Her father, Park Chung-hee, served as the South Korean president for 16 years. He was the target of multiple assassination attempts by North Korea. One of those efforts killed his wife, Chung-hee's mother.
Park took over her mother's duties as first lady until her father was assassinated by the chief of security in 1979. She re-emerged in 1997 as an active politician and is the first female candidate to be seriously considered for president.
Her party, the Saenuridang, is a traditionally conservative group that adapts a somewhat stricter policy towards North Korea that her opponent, Moon Jae-in. As head of the Democratic United Party, he champions a more lenient approach to the South's belligerent neighbor.
In repeated breaking news announcements throughout the day North Korean state-run television celebrated the launch. "We are proud of the glorious success of our satellite technology," said the presenter. "This is a landmark achievement."
Dec. 17 marks the one year anniversary of the country's Dear Leader Kim Jong-il's death. Analysts believe his son and successor, Kim Jong-Un, is under pressure to show the world he is intent on continuing his father's "Military First" policy and demonstrate a show of strength.
While experts do not believe North Korea currently has the technology to mount a nuclear warhead, today's launch is a significant development for the closed country's new leader.