Prof. U R Rao

Prof. Rao was a versatile space scientist, a technologist par excellence, and a passionate space application protagonist, all rolled into one; with sharp analytical bent of mind and enormous intellectual ability with uncanny knack of grasping the contemporary happenings; and astounding ability to quickly make back-of-the-envelope computations for complex solutions and decision making. While he was a tough task master with deep insight, abundant enthusiasm and indefatigable tenacity, and penchant for speedy action, his ability to instantly connect with his subordinates is an attribute often cited as his best quality with each one of them has one story or other to tell about his personal interactions and experience with him.

Above all, Prof. U.R.Rao was a great Institution builder of global repute, and ranks along with Dr Vikram Sarabhai and Prof. Satish Dhawan as the one who brought the vision and mission focus in the Indian space programme with unstinted commitment to align the goals of the organisation with national development. In this, he had to take in his stride the brunt of the innumerable initial difficulties, obstacles and failures of the satellites and launch vehicles in the experimental and its transition to operational era. He steadfastly brought in high levels of professional competence, mutual respect, and team spirit with trust that became the organisational norm and continues to be the guiding force in defining what is known today as ‘ISRO culture’.

Just a few reflections of his stellar role are brought in the following paragraphs.

ISRO will always remember Prof. U.R.Rao’s abundant energy, dynamism and his sense of urgency and enthusiasm to get the things done on time with professional finesse. His determination and speed in making decisions to achieve the seemingly impossible task of building ARYABHATA, the first satellite, starting from the scratch, within the stipulated time and budget, without any basic infrastructure in place, and with an inexperienced young team was something phenomenal.  ARYABHATA brought into fore his project management and system engineering abilities as well as the faith he had nurtured in his team of scientists and engineers. He proved conclusively that India has the ability to master the high technology and deliver world-class products, if there is a professional leadership that leads from the front, bestowing confidence and encouragement, and posing adequate scientific and technological challenges to the younger generation. In fact, it has become the watch words for all subsequent more complex satellite and launch vehicle missions of ISRO.

Immediately after ARYABHATA, Prof. Rao went on to conceive the experimental remote sensing satellites, BHASKARA 1&2, ROHINI D2 and technology satellites in the SROSS series, which together provided the foundation for the operational Indian Remote Sensing Satellites (IRS) for natural resources & environmental applications; and the experimental communication satellite, APPLE, as first step to boldly embark on ISRO’s ambitious operational Indian National Satellites (INSAT) for communication applications. IRS became a well known global brand, even capturing global leadership and attention as India’s imaging capability made a quantum jump from around 1 Km spatial resolution in BHASKARA 1&2 to better than 1 metre, in the Technology Experimental Satellite (TES) launched in 1999. INSAT series of satellites made India a leading country in the world in providing domestic satellite communication services.  For this immense contribution in building self reliance in satellite technology, Prof. Rao is affectionately called as FATHER OF INDIAN SATELLITE PROGRAMME.

For launch vehicle technology, bestowed with more restrictions and embargos from the developed world, it was always major challenge. Prof. Rao met the brunt of these sanctions during his tenure as Chairman, ISRO. He faced them with immense grit and determination in accelerating the efforts towards operationalising  the  Indian launch vehicle programme in the ASLV, PSLV as well as the GSLV Cryo-engines at various stages in spite of these obstacles and restrictions. Undaunted by the failure of the first two developmental flights of ASLV missions, Prof. Rao provided stellar leadership to the operational PSLV programme and his bold initiatives in the development of indigenous cryogenic technology was legendary. Though the programme got inordinately delayed due to  international sanctions, the cryogenic engines got ultimately developed within the country. With the recent successful launching of GSLV Mark III with indigenous cryogenic engines, Prof. Rao was justifiably happy that all his earlier efforts towards making a self-reliant operational launch vehicle programme, have at last borne fruits. Even today, the launch vehicle community remembers Prof. Rao for his unstinted support and courage during those critical years.

Any Tribute to Prof. U.R. Rao will not be complete if it does not contain his remarkable contribution to space technology applications using satellite remote sensing and satellite communications. The breadth and depth of knowledge and the passion he had for making use of space-based inputs in developmental planning were exemplified when he initiated many bold experiments making India as the leader in carrying out space based applications of direct relevance to the country. Forest cover mapping; Wastelands mapping: Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission;; Flood mapping: National Agricultural Drought Assessment and Monitoring System (NADAMS); and Integrated Mission for Sustainable Development (IMSD)  some of the major initiatives taken up by him with gusto. IMSD was the most significant among them, where Prof. Rao boldly advocated remote sensing as a key element in preparing resource maps and evolving action plans at watershed level, to provide grass-root solutions, epitomising the confluence of scientific knowledge, administrative acumen, and local wisdom towards conserving the land and water resources. His advocacy on IMSD went to the extent of roping in some young enthusiastic district collectors and NGOs from across the country to implement the action plan on the ground. Some of the success stories of IMSD were reported increase in ground water level, increased cropping intensity along with increased return on investment for the poor farmers in the rainfed agricultural areas. No wonder IMSD became the inspirational role model for all the later projects, including its adaptation in the much acclaimed World Bank aided Sujala Watershed Development Programme in Karnataka; and the ongoing Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP). 

Similarly, it was Prof. Rao’s untiring efforts that enabled the major communication revolution in India by the use of the multi-purpose INSAT satellites substantially contributing to long distance telecommunications, introduction of nationwide TV and radio broadcast services and providing round the clock meteorological observations and extensive use by closed user groups for educational, cultural as well as business purposes; besides the weather forecasting and meteorological services.  The bold decision taken by Prof.Rao in 80s to go in for the indigenously built operational INSAT 2 series of satellites after the mixed success of the procured INSAT 1 series of satellites, ensured a quantum jump in the satellite communication applications scenario, paving way for India to have a very large constellation of communication satellites in the INSAT and GSAT series of today. Prof. Rao will be remembered  not only for the development of the space segment, but also a low cost ground segment and applications to meet the exploding requirements from the user community, and he did all these with great professional aplomb. Some of the special steps taken by him during that initial operational INSAT era have since then become large-scale operational applications including applications such as Telemedicine, Tele-education, Village Resource Centres (VRC) and Disaster Management Support in the country reaching the common man with extended outreach activities even to less accessible North-East, and other far flung areas including islands. INSAT and GSAT systems have enabled vast expansion of the applications like Direct to Home (DTH), Satellite News Gathering (SNG), VSAT,  internet services and extensive use of space-based applications in e-Governance and developmental communications applications. 

Besides these societal applications for national development, Prof.Rao’s contribution to the space science missions is phenomenal. Starting with his direct association in the early 60s in the international missions like MARINER-2,  PIONEER-7, 8, & 9; EXPLORER-34 & 41 making his own mark in his chosen area of solar winds, galactic cosmic rays; and later with balloons, sounding rocket experiments, before venturing into our own satellite missions like ARYABHATA, BHASKARA, and ROHINI series of satellites with space science payloads especially to study celestial X-ray and gamma ray bursts.  As Chairman, of the Advisory Committee on Space Sciences (ADCOS) for almost three decades, he led the country’s efforts towards these research areas. Today, thanks to these initiatives of Prof. Rao, the Indian Space Programme encompasses research in areas like astronomy, astrophysics, planetary and earth sciences, atmospheric sciences and theoretical physics. It was due to his untiring efforts that ASTROSAT, India’s first dedicated multi-wavelength astronomy mission came into being to study celestial sources in X-ray, optical, and UV bands simultaneously. CHANDRAYAAN-1 and Mars Orbier Mission (MOM) once again stand testimony to Prof. Rao’s commitment to space science missions, providing both technological and scientific challenges, not only to young engineers who built the spacecraft in record time and mission personnel who ensured the successful complex mission operations, but also the young scientists spread across the country who are analysing the vast amount of data coming from these satellites. It is such a combination of passion, forthrightness and concern for scientific details and technological achievements that kept Prof. Rao very active till the end in all the contemporary space missions of India, like his continued involvement in India’s forthcoming missions like CHANDRAYAAN-2; Mars Rover Mission and the ADITYA mission to Sun as well as the recent discussions on Mission to Venus.  Prof. Rao was particularly very excited about the ADITYA mission and  he ensured that it went through a thorough revamp of its mission objectives including its orbital parameters to make the mission more meaningful and contemporary. Now, thanks to Prof. Rao, ADITYA will become the  first mission from India to be placed in the Lagrangian Point, L1, one of the liberation points in orbital configuration,1.5 million kms from the Earth, where a satellite when placed will have the same angular velocity as that of the earth with respect to Sun and hence, maintain the same position in relation to sun as seen from Earth. There were many scientific issues that were attracting Prof. Rao’s attention like studying the sun’s Chromosphere, the transition region, the corona and its heating problem.  It is rather unfortunate that he could not live to see the realisation of his pet mission.

Prof. Rao is also credited with the setting up of ANTRIX Corporation in 1992, as a wholly owned Government of India company under the administrative control of Department of Space, to serve as a marketing arm of ISRO, for promotion and commercial exploitation of space products and services, and also to handle the transfer of technologies developed by ISRO to industries. For example, it is through this unique arrangement that ISRO reaches its communication transponders to various Indian users and its IRS satellite data services to many countries in the world. ANTRIX today provides end-to-end solution, ranging from supply of hardware and software systems, as well as, varied space applications, and has an asset of around Rs.2000 crores. This model of ANTRIX set up with a strong umbilical connection to ISRO, is considered to be a unique contribution by Prof. Rao.

Prof.Rao’s continued concern and the boldness with which he spear-headed his many innovative ideas to operationalise the space technology applications of direct societal relevance at the user-end made Indian Space Programme as one of the most visible and the leading proponent of applications-driven space programmes in the world, and many success stories from India were widely acclaimed in international fora as worth emulating by other developing countries. Obviously, his concern for the society transcended beyond the narrow confines of our county’s boundaries and he took abundant interest in reaching out to the other developing countries towards reaping the benefits of space technology for their own teeming masses. As Vice President of International Astronautical Federation (IAF) and the Chairman of the IAF Committee on Liaison with International Organisations and Developing Nations (CLIODN) for more than one and half decades, he conducted along with the United Nations, many Special Current Event Sessions during the Annual Congress of IAF in different parts of the world on various aspects of space applications with case studies and real life examples with concerned experts from different developing countries sharing their experiences in using space technology applications, and the problems faced by them.

It was once again his quest to build capacity in the developing countries in the Asia and the Pacific to optimally integrate space technology applications in development using the experience gained from India that brought the UN affiliated Centre for Space Science Technology Education in the Asia Pacific (UN CSSTEAP) to India against intense competition and associated political pressures and negotiations in the Asia Pacific Region.  UN CSSTEAP in India has since then become the most vibrant centre in the world, bringing laurels to India and Prof. Rao’s pioneering contribution to bring this Centre to India will always be remembered by the country.

With these and many other significant contributions to UN fora, Prof Rao had the unique distinction of being the first one from outside the select group of countries like USA, USSR and Europe to be elected as Chairman of the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS), Vienna in 1997.  Later, he was unanimously elected as the President of International UNISPACE III Conference, held in Vienna in 1999; an honour and prestige for Prof Rao, as well as for India, signifying India’s rise as a global player in space technology applications.

It is no wonder that Prof. Rao, for his life-long contribution to space science, technology and applications had been bestowed with many national and international awards and accolades; elected as fellow of many reputed academies and institutions; awarded honorary doctorates by a number of universities; and his multi-faceted skills and services continue to be sought after, by many government and private bodies (See Table-1 for details). For his lifelong exceptional and distinguished service to the nation, the Government of India honoured him with the Padma Vibhushan in 2017.  

Thus, Prof Rao will be remembered for long as an inspirational leader par excellence with forthright views, innovative ideas and speedy actions, which continue to instil enormous confidence in young, aspiring space scientists and technologists in this country with his driving mantra “if others can do, we can do better”.

The illustrious life and legacy of Prof U.R.Rao – of a humble village boy from a poor family from an obscure village near Udupi in Karnataka overcoming all the challenges & obstacles and garnering glory in the frontier space science, technology &  applications, both nationally and internationally;  and instrumental in building a prestigious institution of international standing like ISRO with its unique culture; and rising to the position as its Chairman and attaining international fame; and working tirelessly till his end in harnessing the benefits of space technology applications for national development - should continue to be a motivational force and a role model for many young aspirants in our country and elsewhere for generations to come.

May his soul rest in peace.

Table 1: Accomplishments of Prof. U.R. Rao

Positions held

Post Doctoral Fellow MIT, USA(1961 – 1963)

Asst. Professor at S.W. Centre for Advanced Research, Dallas, Texas(1963 – 1966)

Associate Professor, Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad(1966 – 1969)

Professor, Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad (1969 – 1972)

Project Director, Indian Scientific Satellite Project, Bangalore (1972 – 1975)

Director, ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore(1975 – 1984)

Chairman, Space Commission/Secretary, Department of Space, Government of India&

Chairman, Bangalore Association for Science Education (1992 -)

Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Bangalore (1984 – 1994)

Dr.Vikram Sarabhai Distinguished Professor of the Department of Space(1994 – 1999)

Chairman, United Nations - Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN-COPUOS)(1997 – 2000)   

Member, Prasar Bharati Board(1997 – 2001)

Member, National Security Advisory Board(1998 – 2001)

Member, Space Commission, Government of India(1981 – 2001)

Chairman, Prasar Bharati Board(2001 – 2002)

President, Centre for Space Physics, Kolkata(2007)

Chairman, Governing Council of Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune (2007 – till date)

Chairman, Karnataka Science & Technology Academy (2005 – till date)

Co-Chairman, Governing Council, National Center for Antarctic & Ocean Research, Goa(1997 – till date)

Chairman, Advisory Committee for Space Science, ISRO(2005 – till date)

Chancellor, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow (2006 – 2011)

Member, Central Board of Directors, Reserve Bank of India (2006 – 2011)

Additional Director, Bharatiya Reserve Bank Note MudranPvt. Ltd., Bangalore (2007 – till date)

Director, Bank Note Paper Mill India Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore(2010 – till date)

Chairman, PRL Council, ISRO-DOS(1988 – 2017)

Professional Positions held in International arena

Vice President, International Astronautical Federation (IAF)  (1986-1992)

President, Committee for Liaison with Developing Nations (CLODIN) of IAF(1988-2006)

Chairman, UN-COPUOS (United Nations - Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space)1997-2000

President, UNISPACE-III Conference1999


Selected Honours and Accolades


2017 Padma Vibhushan by the President of India

1976Padma Bhushan by the President of India

1975 Karnataka Rajyotsava Award, Bangalore

1975 Hari Om Vikram Sarabhai Award

1975 Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award of CSIR for Space Science & Technology

1980 National Design Award

1980 Vasvik Research Award in the Electronic Sciences & Technology

1983 Karnataka Rajyotsava Award, Bangalore

1987 PC Mahalanobis Medal

1993 Om Prakash Bhasin Award in the Energy & Aerospace

1993 Meghnad Saha Medal

1994 P.C. Chandra Puraskar Award

1994 Electronics Man of the Year Award by ELCINA

1995 Zaheer Hussain Memorial Award

1995 Aryabhata Award, Bangalore

1995Jawaharlal Nehru Award from MP Government

1996 SK Mitra Birth Centenary Gold Medal

1997 Yudhvir Foundation Award

1997 Rabindranath Tagore Award- Viswa Bharati University


1999 Gujar Mal Modi Award for Science & Technology, New Delhi

2001 Nadoja Award from Kannada University, Hampi

2001 Life Time Contribution Award in Engineering  from INAE, New Delhi

2002 Sir M. Visvesvaraya Memorial Award

2003 Press Bureau of India Award

2005 Bharat Ratna Rajiv Gandhi Outstanding Leadership Award

2007 Life Time Achievement Award of Indian Space Research Organisation

2007 Distinguished Scientist Gold Medal of the Karnataka Science &Technology Academy.

2008 Jawaharlal Nehru Birth Centenary Award for 2007-2008 from ISCA

2008 A.V. Rama Rao Technology Award - 2007, AVRA Laboratories Pvt. Ltd., Hyderabad.

2009 Hari Om Ashram Prerit Senior Scientist Award – 2008, PRL, Ahmedabad.

2010 Indian Science Congress Association – General President Gold Medal Award.

2011Sivananda Eminent Citizen Award, Sanathana Dharma Charitable Trust, Visakhapatnam.







1973 Group Achievement Award by NASA, USA

1975 Medal of Honour by Academy of Sciences, USSR

1991 Yuri Gagarin Medal of USSR

1992  Allan D Emil Award on International Cooperation (International Astronautical Federation)

1994 Frank J Malina Award (International Astronautical Federation)

1996  Vikram Sarabhai Medal of COSPAR

1997  Outstanding Book Award of the International Academy of Astronautics for book on ‘Space Technology for Sustainable Development’


2000  Eduard Dolezal Award of International Society of Photogrammetry & Remote Sensing (ISPRS)

2004  Space News magazine names him as one of the Top 10 International personalities in Space

2005  Theodore Von Karman Award of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA).

2013  Inducted into Satellite Hall of Fame in Washington by Society of Satellite Professionals International (SSPI)

2016  IAF Hall of Fame Award by International Astronautical Federation (IAF)


Hon. Doctorates

D.Litt. (Hons. Causa) from:

2001   Kannada University, Hampi

D.Sc (Hons. Causa) from:

1976  Mysore  University, Mysore

1976 Rahuri  University, Rahuri

1981  Calcutta  University, Calcutta

1984  Mangalore University, Mangalore

1992  University of Bologna, Italy

1992  Banaras Hindu University, Banaras

1992  Udaipur University, Udaipur

1993  SV University, Tirupathi

1994  JN University,  Hyderabad

1994  Anna University, Madras

1994  Roorkee University, Roorkee

1995  Punjabi University, Patiala

1997   Shri Shahuji Maharaj University, Kanpur

1999  Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad

2002  Ch. Charan Singh University, Meerut

2005  UP Technical University, Lucknow

2006   Visvesvaraiah Technical University, Belgaum

2007 Indian Institute of Technology,  Delhi

2010  Dr. D.Y. Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune

2012  National Institute of Technology, Agarthala

2013 Bangalore University, Bangalore

2013  Indian Institute of Technology, Bhubaneswar



Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences

Fellow of the Indian National Science Academy

Fellow of National Science Academy

Fellow of Third World Academy of Sciences, Trieste

Fellow of the International Academy of Astronautics

Fellow of World Academy of Arts & Sciences, USA

Fellow of Indian National Academy of Engineering

Fellow of the Astronautical Society of India


Hon. Fellow of the Aeronautical Society

Distinguished Fellow, Institution of Electronics and Telecommunication Engineers

Hon. Fellow,  Indian National Cartographic Association

Fellow , Broadcasting and Engineering Society of India

Hon. Fellow,  Aero Medical Society of India

Distinguished Fellow, Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad


Books authored

U. R. Rao, K. Kasturirangan, K. R. Sridhara Murthi and Surendra Pal (Editors): "Perspectives in Communications", World Scientific, (1987). 

U. R. Rao, M G Chandrasekhar, and V Jayaraman: "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)

U. R. Rao:“India’s Rise as a Space Power”, Foundation Books, Cambridge University Press India Pvt Ltd, New Delhi, (2014).