On the left, prof. udupi ramachandra rao and on the right, isro space rocket
On the left, Space Scientist Udupi Ramachandra Rao | On the right, Isro Space Rocket.

Space Scientist Udupi Ramachandra Rao, an internationally renowned space scientist who made great contributions to the development of space technology in India and its extensive application to communications and remote sensing of natural resources. He was the former Chairman of the Governing Council of the Physical Research Laboratory at Ahmedabad and the Chancellor of the Indian Institute of Space science and Technology at Thiruvananthapuram. He also worked as a Faculty Member at MIT and Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Dallas where he carried out investigations as a prime experimenter on a number of Pioneer and Explorer spacecraft.

He was the former Chairman of Space Commission and Secretary, Department of Space ( chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization – ISRO ). He identified the imperative need to use space technology for rapid development and undertook the responsibility for the establishment of satellite technology in India. Under his guidance, India’s first satellite ‘Aryabhata’ and over 18 satellites were designed and launched for providing communication, remote sensing, and meteorological services.

Prof. Rao accelerated the development of rocket technology, resulting in the successful launch of many rockets. He’s the one who initiated the development of the geostationary launch vehicle GSLV and the development of Cryogenic Technology. Prof Rao had published over 350 scientific and technical papers covering cosmic rays, interplanetary physics, high energy astronomy, space applications, and satellite and rocket technology and authored many books. He was also the recipient of D.Sc. (Hon. Causa) Degree from over 25 Universities including the University of Bologna, the oldest University in Europe.

Prof Rao was awarded ‘Padma Bhushan’ by the Government of India, which is the third-highest Civilian Award, and ‘Padma Vibhushan’ which is the second-highest Civilian Award. Prof. U.R. Rao became the first Indian Space Scientist to be inducted into the highly Prestigious “Satellite Hall of Fame” at Washington DC. Prof. Rao became the first Indian Space Scientist to be inducted into the highly Prestigious “IAF Hall of Fame” at Guadalajara, Mexico.

One of the great scientists of India, Prof. Udupi Ramachandra Rao Biography better known as India’s satellite man Prof. U. R. Rao.


U. R. Rao was born on March 10, 1932, at Adamaru village in the south Canara district in Karnataka state. His parents were Lakshminarayana Acharya and Krishnaveni Amma. His full name was Udupai Ramchandra Rao.

Early Life and Education

U. R. Rao completed his primary education at Adamaru and secondary education at Christian High School, Udupi(Odipu) Karnataka. He studied in Mysore and then graduated from Madras University in 1951 with a Bachelor of Science Degree and completed his Master’s Degree from Banaras Hindu University in 1953. In the same year, he went to Ahmadabad and joined the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) for his Ph.D. and began research on cosmic rays under the guidance of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, after studying further he acquired a Ph.D. at Physical Research Laboratory, Gujarat University, Ahmedabad in 1960. He was very loving of reading during his school and college days and was among the top rankers in class thus, for further studies, in 1961, he received a post-doctoral fellowship from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology(MIT), Boston, USA.

He left India and joined MIT to conduct advanced Research on Spacecraft, and for further research on cosmic rays and solar winds. After two years of research at MIT, he worked as an assistant professor at South West Center for Advanced Studies at Texas University and also carried out investigations as a prime experimenter on a number of Pioneer and Explorer spacecraft from 1963 to 1966.

After working as a faculty member at MIT and Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, he returned to India in 1966 and continued with his research studies on X-rays and gamma-rays in cosmic rays. Prof Rao’s experiments involved the use of balloons, rockets, and satellites, which were used as payloads. Prof. Rao also served as an associate professor at Physical Research Laboratory from 1968 to 1970. In 1970, he was promoted to professor. He worked on that post for two years.

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During his researches at PRL, he and his colleagues had made important contributions towards understanding the interplanetary medium. His research on solar winds has increased our understanding of the subject. The data interpretation of American Satellites pioneer I and Pioneer II became easy due to his researches. His understanding of the solar winds by unraveling the American satellite Mariner II observations provided new insight into the world of science. He was the first to establish the relationship between geomagnetic storms and solar winds with the help of observations made on earth. For his highly accurate analysis of the Pioneer 6,7,8, and 9 observations, he was awarded the ‘Group Achievement Award, by the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) in 1973.

In 1972, he was appointed as director of the ISRO Satellite Centre in Bangalore. He successfully discharged his duties here till 1984.

Later Life and Career

Prof. Rao’s Career started as a Cosmic Ray Scientist when he was at the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad under the guidance of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, he continued this work at MIT too. He was the first to establish the continuous nature of the solar wind and its effect on geomagnetism using Mariner 2 observations in association with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory group in the USA. Prof. Rao’s experiments on a number of Pioneer and Explorer spacecraft directed to a complete understanding of the solar cosmic-ray phenomena and the electromagnetic state of the interplanetary space.

As a director of ISRO Satellite Centre in Bangalore, he started the development of the new institute. After Dr. Sarabhai’s death, he fully concentrated on enriching the space department and reinforcing the satellite technology, in 1972. He knew the immediate need and use of space technology for rapid development so, he undertook the responsibility for the establishment of Satellite Technology in India. Under his guidance, India’s first satellite ‘Aryabhata’ and over 18 satellites including Bhaskara, APPLE, Rohini, INSAT-1, and INSAT-2 series of multipurpose satellites and the IRS-1A and IRS-1B remote sensing satellites were designed, fabricated, and launched for providing communication, remote sensing, and meteorological services.

Aryabhata satellite was launched in 1975, and this was successfully launched from the Russian Cosmodrome and was well in control thereafter. Then the design, development, and successful orbit of Bhaskar I and II were carried out in 1979 and 1981. Under Rao’s leadership, the first experimental geostationary satellite Apple was put into orbit in June 1981. This gave a boost to the development of this new technology in India. Following, the Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellites and the INSAT satellites for broadcasting and meteorological purposes were designed, developed, and successfully sent into orbit. The success achieved in putting them in appropriate orbit has increased the faith in Indian scientists and technicians. All this happened under Rao’s leadership.

2 October 1984, was the day when Prof. Rao was appointed chairman of ISRO and secretary of Space Commissions, Government of India. After taking the charge as Chairman of Space Commission and Secretary of, Department of Space in 1985, he accelerated the development of Rocket Technology and took forward the space program by guiding the scientists and engineers, which helped in the successful launch of the ASLV rocket in 1992. He was also responsible for the development of the operational PSLV launch vehicle, which successfully launched an 850 kg satellite into a polar orbit in 1995. He initiated the development of the geostationary launch vehicle GSLV and the development of Cryogenic Technology in 1991. He was responsible for the successful launch of INSAT satellites during his stint at ISRO.

Satellite launch vehicles like the ASLV, which could launch a satellite with a payload of 150 Kg in lower orbit, and PSLV, which could launch a satellite with a payload of 1000 kg in polar orbit were prepared. Besides, special cryogenic engines are acquired to produce launch vehicles for GSLV geostationary satellites. These satellite launch vehicles can put satellites with a 2.5-ton payload into orbit. Under his leadership, the country’s space programs took a giant leap and made various achievements and these achievements were recognized all over the world. Prof. Rao performed his duties successfully till 1994.

During the 1980s and 1990s, this rapid development and the launch of INSAT satellites gave momentum to communications in India. The successful launch of INSAT provided telecommunication links to remote corners of India. During these decades fixed telephone (called landline) expanded throughout the country due to the availability of satellite links at different places in the ground. People could talk easily from anywhere by the use of STD (Subscriber Trunk Dialing) instead of waiting for hours to get the connection. This development played a key role in the future for India to develop as an Information Technology hub. He was the first Chairman of Antrix Corporation.

Prof. U. R. Rao’s Legacy and honors

In 1975, the Russian Science Academy, while praising his efforts for the successful launch of the Aryabhatt satellite, honored him with the Russian ‘Medal of Honour’. The same year, he was awarded the ‘Dr. Vikram Sarabhai Research Award’ instituted by the Hariom Ashrama, for his contribution to space physics. He was also awarded the ‘Dr. Shantiswaroop Bhatnagar Prize’ for his contribution to engineering science. The Karnataka government conferred on him the ‘State Award’. In 1980, the Indian Engineering Institute gave him the ‘National Design Award’ and for his contribution to electronics science and technology, he was given the year’s ‘Vasvik Research Award’. For his services to the country, the President awarded him the Padma Bhushan in 1976.

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Rao was an elected Fellow of many academies such as the Indian Academy of Sciences, Indian National Science Academy, National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Electronics and Telecommunications Engineers, International Academy of Astronautics, and Third World Academy of Sciences. Rao was conferred the Fellowship of the World Academy of Arts & Sciences. He was the General President of the Indian Science Congress Association for 1995-96. Rao was the Vice President of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) from 1984 to 1992 and continues to be the Chairman of the Committee for Liaison with Developing Countries (CLIODN) since 1986.

In 1987, the National Science Academy awarded him the P C Mahalanobis Medal. In 1991, the Russian Space Flight Federation honoured him with the Yuri Gagarin Medal. In 1992, for his cooperation in the journey of space, the international community ( of which he is the Vice-president) awarded him the Allen D’mil Memorial Award. In 1995, India’s scientific community honoured him with the Aryabhatt Award. The same year he was given the Bhasin Award. Kolkata (Calcutta) University along with Mysore University, as well as other universities in the country and abroad have conferred on him honorary doctorate degrees. The National Science Academy, Institute of Electronics and Telecommunications, National Engineering Academy, and Indian Astronautical Society have honoured him with a Fellowship and gave him honorary membership. He was the president of the Indian Rocket Society. He was honoured as visiting scientist to Texas University and other universities. In 1996, he was presented with the Dr Vikram Sarabhai International Award.

In 1996, he had detailed discussions with the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, on how Science and Technology would be useful in increasing food grain production, economic development, and health of the country.

In June 1997, Rao was elected as the Chairman of the United Nations – Committee On Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN-COPUOS) and also Chairman of the UNISPACE-III Conference. In April 2007, he was elected as the Chairman of the 30th International Antarctic Treaty Consultative Committee Meeting at Delhi.

He was the Co-Chairman of the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research, Goa. He was the first chairman of Prasar Bharati. Rao was the Fourth President of the Governing Body of the Centre for Space Physics in 2007 and while he was the President, he changed its name to Indian Centre for Space Physics in recognition of its National importance.

Other positions held by Rao in India include: Chairman, Karnataka Science and Technology Academy, Chairman, Bangalore Association of Science Education-JNP, Chancellor, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow, Member, Central Board of Directors, Reserve Bank of India, Additional Director, Bharatiya Reserve Bank Note Mudran Private Ltd., Bangalore roopchand mali, Chairman, Governing Council of Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune.

Prof. Rao was awarded many national and international awards, such as the Padma bhushan in 2017 by the Government of India, which is the third-highest Civilian Award, and ‘Padma Vibhushan’ which is the second-highest Civilian Award. He also received the Rabindranath Tagore Award of Viswa Bharati University, Gujar Mal Modi Award for Science & Technology, Aryabhata Award, and many more see all the list of Awards received by U. R. Rao here – Prof. Udupi Ramachandra Rao – Awards Honours”. ISRO. Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant Memorial Lecture – IV” (PDF). Govind Ballabh Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development.

Books authored by U. R. Rao

  • U. R. Rao, K. Kasturirangan, K. R. Sridhara Murthi. and Surendra Pal (Editors), “Perspectives in Communications”, World Scientific (1987). ISBN 978-9971-978-76-1
  • U. R. Rao, “Space and Agenda 21 – Caring for Planet Earth”, Prism Books Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore (1995).
  • U. R. Rao, “Space Technology for Sustainable Development”, Tata McGraw-Hill Pub., New Delhi (1996)


24 July 2017 (aged 85) Bengaluru, India. Prof. U. R. Rao has played an important role in enhancing India’s name in the world of space science and this is the reason why many institutes, universities, and many governments in the country and abroad have praised his efforts.


This Article was Published On: 17 March, 2021 And Last Modified On: 13 October, 2021

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