The Man Behind India’s First Satellite ‘Aryabhata’


Udupi Ramachandra Rao, remembered by many as ‘India’s Satellite Man’ was an internationally renowned space scientist who made immense contributions to the development of space technology in India. Better known as U.R. Rao or Prof Rao, he is credited with extensive application to communications and remote sensing of natural resources.

Here are some life-facts about him:

  • Born on March 10,1932 in Adamaru, Udupi in Karnataka, Rao spent his childhood in the village. After completing his schooling, he earned his Bachelor of Science (BSc) from Madras University in 1952 and Masters in Science (MSc) from the Banaras Hindu in 1954.
  • Rao began his career as a cosmic-ray physicist under the guidance of Dr Vikram Sarabhai, a scientist widely regarded as the father of India’s space program.
  • After completing his doctorate, Prof Rao went on to pursue his talents in the US, as a Faculty Member at MIT and Assistant Professor at University of Texas at Dallas, he worked on satellite-based investigations of cosmic rays and solar physics and conducted experiments on NASA’s Pioneer and Explorer spacecrafts.
  • Rao returned to the homeland in 1966 and initiated a large-scale high-energy astronomy program at the Physical Research Laboratory before spearheading India’s satellite program in 1972. It was under his guidance, India’s first satellite ‘Aryabhata’ was launched in 1975 and over 18 satellites were designed and launched transforming communication, remote sensing and meteorological services in the country.
  • After taking charge as Chairman, Space Commission and Secretary, Department of Space in 1984, Prof. Rao propelled the nation’s space program to new heights. He is credited with establishing the development of indigenous satellite technology, giving thrust to early rocket development efforts with the Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV) and the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). He also initiated the development of the medium powered Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) rocket for a two-tonne spacecraft in 1991.
  • Prof Rao in his time published over 350 scientific and technical papers that covered cosmic rays, interplanetary physics, high energy astronomy 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 University of Bologna, the oldest University in Europe.
  • The celebrated scientist is the only Indian to date to have been inducted into the Satellite Hall of Fame, Washington, in 2013 and the International Astronautics Federation (IAF) at Guadalajara, Mexico on 15 May 2016.
  • Prof Rao, who died in 2017 in Bengaluru, is survived by his wife, a scientist, a son and a daughter.


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