1980/B.Tech/ME Chief Engineer, Mars Helicopter Project, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA USA
Dr. Jayarao Balaram is a Principal Member of Staff at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology. He received his Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from IITM in 1980, followed by his Masters in Computer & Systems Engineering from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1982. He received his Ph.D. in Computer & Systems Engineering from the same institute in 1985, where his doctoral thesis addressed the control of highly non-linear systems. He has been at JPL ever since and works in Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL), Modelling & Simulation, Telerobotics Technology, and Mobility Concept Development.
Dr. Balaram is the originator of the concept that became the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars. He served as its Chief Engineer during its development, test, and operations. He has also served as the Initiative Lead for a Strategic Research and Technology Development effort to develop science helicopters on Mars as a follow-up to the success of Ingenuity.
Previously Dr. Balaram researched precision landing methods for Mars as well as advanced simulation techniques for planetary EDL. He led the team that developed a high-fidelity EDL simulator that has been adopted for use by the Curiosity and Perseverance missions. He is also the co-developer of a simulator used for planetary rover simulation. Dr. Balaram has led design teams for developing Mars aerobot (aerial robot) perception systems, a deep-diving Venus balloon gondola concept, and balloon-carried imaging sondes for deployment at Venus. He was also a co-developer of the Rocky-7 rover platform, a prototype and precursor to the new generation of rovers such as those on the MER mission.
Dr. Balaram was awarded the Magellan Award for his contribution towards developing the Mars helicopter, as well as multiple Group Achievement Awards and NASA New Technology & Space Act Awards for contributions to various other projects.
For his immense contributions to the field of space exploration, IIT Madras and its alumni are proud to bestow Distinguished Alumni Award for the year 2022 upon Dr. Balaram.