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Sr. Engineer, Systems (Lab Facilities Supervisor) in Palmdale, CA at Universities Space Research Association

Date Posted: 3/7/2019

Job Snapshot

Job Description

The Mission Operations Laboratory Facilities Supervisor will primarily support the Mission Operations and the Science Instrument Teams in the ongoing operation and maintenance of SOFIA Mission Labs at the SOFIA Operations Center (SOC) at Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) at B703 in Palmdale, California. The Lab Facilities Supervisor is responsible to create and maintain safe, clean, and productive lab environments and provide operations and safety training for all lab users, including Mission Operations staff as well as visiting Science Investigators.

The Lab Facilities Supervisor is responsible for requirement specifications, maintenance, and safe operations of all Science Mission Labs including Instrument, Optics, Electronics, Preflight Integration Facility (PIF) with Telescope Assembly Alignment Simulator (TAAS), and Mirror Coating Facility (MCF).  The Lab Facilities Supervisor is also responsible for development of processes and procedures (including documentation) for all Mission Labs including all technical operating and safety training manuals based on intended use and all applicable NASA, USRA, and site-specific regulations.  The Lab Facilities Supervisor will be the primary point of contact for Mission Lab operations and will interface with several groups at AFRC including NASA SOFIA operations management, B703 facilities management, SOFIA and AFRC safety, and Science Instrument (SI) teams. 

Essential Duties/Responsibilities:

  • Provide lab facilities capable of meeting needs of the SOFIA mission
  • Support SI activities such as installations, removals, testing, repairs and commissioning
  • Support Mirror Cleaning and Coating activities in the MCF and on the aircraft
  • Owner of chemical zone certification for all the SI labs and MCF
  • Work with Facility Science Instrument Engineers to understand individual instrument needs and provide logistical support with actions such as compliance issues and tooling needs.
  • Support SOFIA deployment operations; responsible for deployment lab space set up, lab equipment procurement and lab maintenance
  • Initiate continuous improvement for labs and MCF
  • Maintain effective working relations with the NASA customer, German partners from DSI, and Science Instrument teams.
  • Responsible for coordination and support for Principle Investigators’ science instruments

Lab Equipment

  • Responsible for any necessary development and implementation of Maintenance Plans for laboratory equipment and facilities
  • Responsible for planning, procurement, and maintenance and repair of SI labs, MCF, and SI support equipment including the TAAS and cryocoolers
  • Responsible for scheduling and coordinating lab and MCF equipment annual compliance activities
  • Work with vacuum pumps, leak detectors, vacuum hardware and electronic equipment to support SIs
  • Responsible for maintaining cryogen dewars and cryogen sheds
  • Responsible for maintenance, operation and repair of TAAS

Safety and Compliance

  • Responsible for maintaining safety and compliance of the labs, MCF, TAAS and SI related equipment as per NASA/AFRC or other standards as specified by NASA/USRA safety and QA
  • Responsible for maintaining clean and safe environments in labs and MCF
  • Responsible for safety of personnel in the labs and MCF
  • Work with QA and Safety representatives to ensure SI workflow process is followed and appropriate documentation generated for work in the labs
  • Responsible for maintaining currency of all the lab equipment, MCF equipment, cryogen Dewars, Pressure Relief Devices (PRD’s), ESD benches, clean room requirements and SI support equipment
  • Assist Safety and QA with inspections, compliance documentation development, and other tasks that support lab activities


  • Conduct Personnel Training for Lab and MCF Operations

Scheduling and coordination

  • Work with teams to schedule science lab use and MCF activities
  • Responsible for scheduling, coordinating and performing Primary Mirror reflectivity testing, washing, coating (when needed) and yearly Mirror coating samples to meet NASA compliance
  • Coordinate with NASA to schedule any lab related facility maintenance

Reporting and Documentation

  • Responsible for developing and maintaining currency of lab, MCF, and TAAS related safety procedures, manuals, traveler, flagsheets, curriculum materials/manuals
  • Responsible for reporting all lab and MCF related activities to the Maintenance and Engineering (MandE) manager
  • Oversee lab/MCF related Discrepancy Reports (DRs) and Configuration Change Requests (CCRs): attend Observatory Configuration Control Board (OCCB) meetings, write / comment / track relevant DRs and CCRs, schedule staff as appropriate to address DRs and CCRs

Lab Requirements

  • Maintain and update lab requirements as needed for new or upgraded science instruments
  • Work with facilities and 703 management to ensure labs are capable and ready to support science instrument and mirror coating activities
  • Work with NASA to develop and implement plans for any needed lab modifications and ensure modifications are accomplished as per NASA/AFRC standards
  • Specify lab power requirements to support current and future SI’s, including the cryo-coolers
  • Support telescope operations; including Primary Mirror wash, stripping, coating and reflectivity/emissivity measurements.

General Support

  • Participate in technical support of operational facility instruments, and optical systems including, but not limited to activities such as fabrication, installation, maintenance, troubleshooting and repair so that they are in good operating condition, safe, and available for observing
  • Works well with the team and shares relevant information with the colleagues
  • Work with MandE manager to support ad hoc SOFIA needs and activities

Required Qualifications:


  • BS in physics/astronomy, engineering or a related field. A minimum of 5 years of experience in relevant field or Astronomical observatory experience can be substituted for the Bachelor’s degree.


  • 3+ years of lab experience in a scientific and/or research environment is required
  • 5+ years operations experience at a major observatory very advantageous

Licenses, Certifications:

  • Incumbents must pass an annual physical examination to be qualified for required job training.
  • Must be able to obtain certification to work in confined spaces.

Knowledge, Skills & Abilities:  

  • Analytical Skills: Excellent analytical and abstract reasoning skills. Ability to define problems, collect data, establish facts, and draw valid conclusions. 
  • Technical Skills: Ability to read and understand technical manuals, engineering and manufacturing drawings, including schematics, wiring diagrams, and optical designs and layouts is desired.  Working knowledge of astronomical instruments and optical and/or infrared observing techniques is desired.  Ability to independently devise, setup, conduct, and analyze tests on instruments to investigate performance characteristics.
  • Planning and Organization: Demonstrated track record of setting and meeting goals. Strong process improvement, decision making, organization, planning and implementation skills.  Strong organizational skills with an ability to balance competing demands. Ability to set priorities, analyze and resolve problems, and make decisions in a timely fashion.
  • Documentation / Reporting: Develop manuals/instructions for equipment compatibility with labs and safety instructions.
  • People Management: Maintain good working relations with NASA, DSI and Science Instrument teams.
  • Interpersonal Skills / Communications: An effective communicator at all levels in the organization, with strong oral and written skills and a willingness to share information.  A collaborative and flexible style. Excellent written and oral communication skills – write routine reports and correspondence, speak effectively before groups of co-workers or customers. Demonstrated leadership ability, team management, and interpersonal skills. Fluency in German a plus.
  • Teamwork: Ability to work with a diverse group of scientists, engineers, technicians, administrators, and managers. Teamwork and the ability to work effectively with co-workers, customers, and supervisor in a professional and courteous manner.  Shares relevant information with colleagues.
  • Computer Skills: High level computer skills, including above average knowledge of the Microsoft Office applications.  Ability to read and understand/interpret technical manuals such as policy and safety rules, operating and maintenance manuals, process and procedure manuals. Knowledge of JIRA and Confluence desired.
  • Lab Setup and Equipment Skills: Possess demonstrated experience in operations and maintenance of cryogen dewars, pressure relief devices (PRDs), pressure systems, leak detectors, and vacuum pumps/systems.  Experience with cryogen servicing.  Knowledge of Electro Static Discharge (ESD) Requirements.  Good understanding of clean room requirements and experience with clean room setup and maintenance. Knowledge of cryo-coolers is desired.  Possess the ability to acquire and maintain a working knowledge of existing and newly introduced mechanical and electrical/electronic equipment.

Working Conditions:

  • The employee must be capable and proficient at performing all duties in a technical/scientific setting including offices, laboratories, shops, and aircraft maintenance facilities as well as on the aircraft/observatory, both while on the ground and during flights. Must be proficient at working in time critical and/or high pressure/stress environments.
  • While performing the duties of this job, the employee is frequently required to stand, walk, sit, and use hands. Keyboarding for large time spans each day may be a significant part of this position.  The employee may need to lift and/or move up to 50 pounds. 
  • Must be prepared to work night, weekend, and holiday shift operations when scheduled to do.
  • Work on the SOFIA Program is in a highly visible public setting. There can be no expectation of personal privacy while performing the job.
  • A significant portion of the work day will occur either on an airplane or in a lab inside an aircraft hangar. While performing the duties of this job, the employee may occasionally be exposed to fumes or airborne particles. The employee may be exposed to moving equipment, vehicles and mechanical parts.  The noise level in the work office environment is typically mild.  The environment on the aircraft during ground and flight operations may become noisy, cold, and tiring. The employee must be capable of performing all duties in a technical/scientific setting including offices, laboratories, shops, and aircraft maintenance facilities as well as on the aircraft/observatory, both while on the ground and during flights.


  • Domestic and international travel (up to 3 months for international deployment. Up to 30% travel.

Applicants should apply to the posting at and include a letter of interest, resume, or curriculum vita.  Review of candidates will begin immediately.  Additional information on USRA can be found at

USRA is an Equal Opportunity Employer Minorities/Females/Protected Veterans/Disabled/Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity


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