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Job Title:
Mechanical Engineer (Project Engineer), IS-0830, Grade 14; $130,929 - $170,205 annually
Type of Position:
Trust Fund (non-Federal) Indefinite
Job Location:
Cambridge, MA
Posting Opening Date:
Posting Closing Date:

AREA OF CONSIDERATION:  This position requires access to export-controlled work. The candidate must be a U.S. person (citizen, permanent resident, approved asylee or refugee) or be a national of a country eligible to be approved on an export license who is eligible to work in the US. First consideration may be made 14 days from the opening date of this vacancy.


This is the position of Mechanical Engineer (Project Engineer), Central Engineering Department (CE), Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO). The purpose of the position is to support the Observatory’s scientific investigations by providing mechanical, structural, and project engineering expertise to the development of advanced ground-based instrumentation for astronomical/astrophysical data collection and related telescope systems.


The incumbent of this position will provide mechanical engineering expertise and technical leadership to instruments being developed by SAO for the 6.5m MMT and 25-meter Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). The initial assignment will be to serve as Project Engineer/Lead Mechanical Engineer for the twin Viaspec instruments for the MMT and Magellan Clay telescopes. The incumbent will also support the development of other ground-based instruments, in particular the GMT Multi-object Astronomical and Cosmological Spectrograph (GMACS). The incumbent will often be required to support multiple complex projects simultaneously

Duties may include but are not limited to:

1.  In collaboration with CfA scientific investigators conceives, designs, and constructs highly complex scientific instruments, their support structures, optical systems, and associated mechanisms and test equipment that are at or extend state-of-the-art. Assignments will include the complete instrument life cycle, from conceptual design through integration, test, commissioning, operations, maintenance, and repair.

2. As Project Engineer, in coordination with the the Program Manager and Principal Investigator maintains technical oversight of the project in progress and has ultimate responsibility for the design and test integrity of the mechanical and structural aspects of the instrument.

3. Provides expert technical consultation to CfA scientists and other engineering staff in instrument mechanical design, state-of-the-art mechanisms, materials and processes selection, fabrication and assembly methods, and fixturing, particularly in the areas of motion control devices, high reliability mechanisms, and general robotics.

4. Provides planning information to project management including labor and materials cost estimates, schedules, workplans, and technical reports. Provides engineering input to proposals for both internal and external project funding. Directs the work of engineers, designers, and technicians assigned to the project, and ensures their adherence to project budgets, schedules, and technical specifications. Provides technical direction to, and is a liaison with, technical sub-contractors as required.

5. Investigates, selects, justifies, and procures critical mechanical, servo-mechanical, and optical components used in astronomical/astrophysical instrumentation and its development. Prepares specifications for selected components that describe the technical approach and results and conclusions of engineering trades and analyses. Prepares procurement documentation that sets expectations and delivery criteria.

6. Conducts detailed structural trades and analyses at the concept and detailed design levels to inform technical decisions. Supports the development of requirements and associated compliant systems designs.

7. Actively participates in the assembly of complex instrumentation involving intricate structures, mechanisms, and optics. Provides technical leadership to overall instrument fabrication, assembly, and test activities, both in SAO laboratories and externally, including at vendor or partner facilities and/or telescope sites

8. Extensively documents work in technical memoranda, reports, test plans, and procedures. Develops technical specifications to communicate needs internally as well as to suppliers and partners. Either singly or in collaboration with project scientists and other engineers, may write technical papers recording innovative design techniques and criteria, and present results at technical symposia in the specialty field.

9. Serves as the project’s mechanical/structural representative to both internal and external stakeholders including senior management and staff at the CfA, collaborating or sponsoring organizations, and review teams. Makes both oral and written presentations to project scientists and technical representatives of contracting agencies and cooperating or affiliated organizations. Develops and presents detailed technical content at internal weekly status reviews, international conferences, and major gate reviews involving external partners. Serves on technical task forces, review teams, and committees.

10. Travels both nationally and internationally as required to support project activities.

11. Performs other related duties as assigned.


(A) Degree: professional engineering. To be acceptable, the curriculum must:

(1) be in a school of engineering with at least one curriculum accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) as a professional engineering curriculum; or

(2) include differential and integral calculus and courses (more advanced than first-year physics and chemistry) in five of the following seven areas of engineering science or physics: (a) statics, dynamics; (b) strength of materials (stress-strain relationships); (c) fluid mechanics, hydraulics; (d) thermodynamics; (e) electrical fields and circuits; (f) nature and properties of materials (relating particle and aggregate structure to properties); and (g) any other comparable area of fundamental engineering science or physics, such as optics, heat transfer, soil mechanics, or electronics.


(B) Combination of education and experience--college-level education, training, and/or technical experience that furnished (1) a thorough knowledge of the physical and mathematical sciences underlying professional engineering, and (2) a good understanding, both theoretical and practical, of the engineering sciences and techniques and their applications to one of the branches of engineering.

In addition to the Basic Requirements, applicants must meet one of the following requirements:

One year of professional experience equivalent in difficulty and responsibility to grade 13 level work within or closely related to the position. Specialized experience for this position would typically include experience with ground based state of the art scientific instrumentation.

This position has a mandatory education requirement; you must furnish a copy of your transcript of college work completed (unofficial copy is acceptable) or a copy of your degree certificate. Non-submission will  result in you being rated ineligible for the position.

Applicants must meet all qualification requirements by the closing date of this announcement. 


Important Note: Your resume and supporting documentation will be compared to your responses to the occupational questionnaire or other assessment tool for consistency. If a determination is made that you have rated yourself higher than is supported by your resume, you will be assigned a rating commensurate to your described experience. Your resume should provide detailed information regarding how your education and experience relate to this position, including the major duties and qualifications criteria listed.

Basic qualification requirements can be found at and

Additional information

For the latest information on the COVID-19 vaccination requirements and its impact on your application, click on Smithsonian Institution’s Frequently Asked Questions.  

APPLICATION PROCEDURE We will only accept applications on line for this position.  For complete information about this position and the online application procedures, please visit USAJOBS

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


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