Udupi Ramachandra Rao, an Indian space scientist

OV Digital Desk

Udupi Ramachandra Rao (10 March 1932 – 24 July 2017) was an Indian space scientist and chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation. Also known as “The Satellite Man of India“.

He was also the Chairman of the Governing Council of the Physical Research Laboratory at Ahmedabad and Nehru Planetarium at Bengaluru and chancellor of the Indian Institute for Space Science and Technology (IIST) at Thiruvananthapuram.

Early Life

Udupi Ramachandra Rao was born on 10 March 1932 in Madras, India. He completed his primary education at Adamaru and secondary education at Christian High School, Odipu, Karnataka. In 1951, he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Madras University, and then, he completed his master’s degree at Banaras Hindu University in 1953.

After his Ph.D. at the Physical Research Laboratory, Gujarat University, Ahmedabad, he did research on cosmic rays under Dr. Vikram Sarabhai. He earned a Ph.D. in 1960 at the Physical Research Laboratory, Gujarat University, Ahmedabad. While in high school and college, he was an excellent reader and ranked among the top students in his class so, for post-doctoral studies, he received a fellowship from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston, USA.


At the beginning, he worked under Vikram Sarabhai. Using Mariner 2 data in collaboration with Jet Propulsion Laboratory, U.R. Rao established the continuous nature of the solar wind and its effects on geomagnetism. Through many experiments, he figured out how cosmic rays came from the sun and what the electromagnetic state of interplanetary space was.

He started setting up the new institute when he was a director at the ISRO Satellite Centre in Bangalore. After Dr. Sarabhai’s death in 1971, he focused on improving the space department and enhancing satellite technology. Space technology was needed for rapid development, so he took the lead on setting up satellite technology in India. Over 18 satellites, including India’s first satellite Aryabhata and the APPLE, Rohini, INSAT-1, and INSAT-2 series of multipurpose satellites, and the IRS-1A and IRS-1B remote sensing satellites, have been designed, manufactured, and launched under his guidance.

As a professor at the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, he worked at MIT and the University of Texas at Dallas before returning to India in 1966.

In the late 1990s, he became Chairman of the Space Commission and Secretary of the Department of Space. Within a few months of taking over, he succeeded in launching the operational PSLV rocket and ASLV rocket into polar orbit. He developed the geostationary launch vehicle GSLV and cryogenic technology in 1991.

In his time at ISRO, he helped launch the INSAT series of satellites, making communications in India a lot easier. As a result, telecommunications were extended to the most remote areas of India. Subscriber Trunk Dialing, or STD for short, allowed people to communicate easily. This helped India become an IT hub. He was the first Chairman of Antrix Corporation.


Ramachandra Rao is the author of a lot of books, such as Physics of Communication, Space and Agenda 21 – Caring for the Planet Earth and Space Technology for Sustainable Development.


In 1976, he received the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award of India, and in 2017, he was awarded with the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award of India.

He won the P C Mahalanobis Medal in 1987 from the National Science Academy. The Russian Space Flight Federation awarded him the Yuri Gagarin Medal in 1991.


He died on 24 July 2017, in Bengaluru, Karnataka, India.

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