North Korea launches nuclear-capable missile into space over Japan: reports

television screen showing a north korean missile flying into the sky, in a store window. person walks past as a blur on the right
A woman walks past a public television screen in Tokyo, displaying file footage of North Korean missile launches during a broadcast Oct. 4, 2022. (Image credit: Richard A. Brooks / AFP via Getty Images)

North Korea just conducted one of its most provocative missile tests yet, according to media reports.

The country sent a missile into space that flew over Japan Tuesday (Oct. 4), prompting South Korea and the United States to send fighter jets aloft in an exercise off the Korean coast, according to the The Washington Post (opens in new tab).

Unnamed experts quoted by the Post said the missile test, which used a vehicle capable of hosting nuclear weapons, is pushing North Korea closer to threatening the U.S. mainland. The Tuesday test is part of a larger volley of demonstrations by North Korea, which has launched roughly 40 missiles across 20 or so efforts in 2022.

"The United States will continue its efforts to limit [North Korea's] ability to advance its prohibited ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction programs, including with allies and U.N. partners," U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement, as quoted by the Post.

Related: North Korea's rocket and missile program (photos)

South Korean Air Force F-15Ks and U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets fly over the Korean Peninsula in response to North Korea's intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) launch on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (Image credit: South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images)

South Korean and Japanese estimates cited in the news report say the missile left a northern province of North Korea, near the border with China, and reached a maximum altitude of roughly 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) — more than double the altitude of the International Space Station.

The missile used in Tuesday's test apparently had a range of about 2,860 miles (4,500 km), putting within striking distance Guam, a U.S. island territory in Micronesia, in the Pacific Ocean.

The last time North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan was in 2017, according to CNN (opens in new tab). The missile launched on Tuesday was likely a Hwasong-12, the CNN report added, which is an intermediate-range ballistic missile that North Korea last tested in January of this year. 

While this missile landed harmlessly in the Pacific Ocean, CNN added, a malfunction could have put highly populated areas in danger, as the rocket flew over Japan's Tohoku region, which hosts more than eight million people.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace