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Job Title:
Engineering Technician (Electronics), GS-802, Grade 11; $65,340 - $84,948 annually
Type of Position:
Federal- Career/CareerConditional
Job Location:
Amado, Arizona
Posting Opening Date:
Posting Closing Date:

AREA OF CONSIDERATION:   This position is open to all U.S. Citizens or U.S. Nationals.

Note: Federal employees with permanent status or individuals eligible for special appointing authorities may also apply to Job Announcement #21-52.


The Engineering Technician (Electronics) position is located at Whipple Observatory (FLWO), Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO). The FLWO is a geographically isolated, technically specialized, and highly interactive scientific research environment with 24 hour operation; located on Mt. Hopkins within the Coronado National Forest in Amado, AZ,  elevation of ~8600 feet. The FLWO hosts three, meter-class, telescopes and a number of specialized smaller telescopes. 


1.  Operates, tests, and maintains the electrical and electro-mechanical systems of the FLWO’s meter-class and smaller telescopes, their scientific instruments, and related infrastructure. This includes, but is not limited to, electro-mechanical systems related to telescope dome enclosures and drives, instrument auto-fill LN2 dewar systems, microwave dishes, network equipment, instrument data collection systems, and moderate and high dispersion spectrographs; and encompasses the following responsibilities:

     a. Monitors telescope observers’ reports, and inspects and tests systems to ensure they are operating normally so as to minimize data loss and/or downtime.

     b. Troubleshoots failures in electronic equipment, telescope mechanical systems and computers, and repairs or replaces failed components as needed. Examples include electronics that are comprised of digital and analog circuits from low noise amplifiers to high power servo amplifiers, motion control devices, stepper motors, and servomotor systems.

     c. Manages dewars to ensure they maintain vacuum and remain at operating cryogenic temperatures at all times. Ensures the availability of sufficient LN2 on site, and fills smaller instrument dewars from larger tanks.

     d. Organizes and maintains an up-to-date system of documentation for instrument and telescope systems and related maintenance procedures. Documents new procedures as they are implemented.

     e. Maintains, cleans, and mounts delicate optical components such as filters, CCD cameras, and spectrographs. This may require disassembly and assembly of complex, delicate instrument components.

2.  Procures and/or builds and maintains the test and support equipment used in the maintenance and operation of instruments and telescopes.

3.  Manages an electronics shop at the telescope site. Ensures that all Smithsonian Institution/FLWO safety practices and procedures are followed. Identifies requirements, procures, and maintains an inventory of required tooling and spare parts in order to diagnose and correct instrument/telescope performance anomalies quickly so as to prevent and/or minimize lost observing time.  

4.  Conducts regularly scheduled instrument changeovers at FLWO telescopes and participates in the annual removal and re-installation of mirrors for re-aluminization. Changeovers require using lifting and moving equipment to remove and replace heavy instruments containing delicate optical systems, and evaluating post-changeover instrument performance to ensure that all systems are operating without faults or data losses. Participates in post-aluminization collimation of the telescope(s).

5.  Provides instructions and training to visiting astronomers and students on the use of FLWO telescopes and instruments. Regularly interacts with scientists to obtain their assessment of the quality of the scientific data collected with the telescopes and corrects any conditions that may have led to data of unacceptable quality.


Qualifying experience for GS-11 includes one year of specialized experience comparable to GS-9 which is directly related to the work of this position and which has equipped the applicant with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform successfully the duties of the position. For this position, specialized experience is experience that includes microcontrollers, DC and AC motors and motor control systems, programmable logic controllers, and electronic detectors such as CCD's.

Experience refers to paid and unpaid experience, including volunteer work done through National Service programs (e.g., Peace Corps, AmeriCorps) and other organizations (e.g., professional; philanthropic; religious; spiritual; community, student, social). Volunteer work helps build critical competencies, knowledge, and skills and can provide valuable training and experience that translates directly to paid employment. You will receive credit for all qualifying experience, including volunteer experience.

Part-time and/or unpaid experience related to this position will be considered to determine the total number of years and months of experience. Be sure to note the number of paid or unpaid hours worked each week.

Application Procedures:  We are only accepting online applications for this position. To apply please visit USAJOBS


The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory is an equal opportunity employer committed to diversity in our workplace.

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