John M. Sarkissian

CSIRO Parkes Observatory
CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science
P.O. Box 276
Parkes. NSW. 2870

Tel: (02) 6861-1769
Int: +61 2 68611769

Email: John Sarkissian

John Sarkissian at The DISH - 3 August 2006

"The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lighted" - Plutarch

Hi, my name is John Sarkissian. I am an Operations Scientist at the CSIRO Parkes Radio Observatory. My main responsibilities are the operation and systems development at the radio telescope, and the remote support and training of astronomers with their observations. In addition, I am involved in Pulsar research - an exciting field of radio astronomy - as well as numerous outreach and public relations activities of the CSIRO's Astronomy and Space Science.

My Papers:

Click here for a full list of my scientific papers.

My Projects:

Click here for details of my Parkes Projects.


I am a member of the ATNF Science Operations Team which provides the front-line support for the Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF) telescopes. I am one of four ATNF Operations Scientists who operate and troubleshoot the ATNF telescopes. In 2015, I joined the newly created ASKAP Operations Team. Overall, the team will operate ASKAP and support Parkes, ATCA and VLBI operations.

Since 2015, along with my colleagues, Dr John Reynolds and Dr George Hobbs, I have used a Phased Array Feed (PAF) receiver on the 12-metre antenna of the Parkes Test-Bed Facility (PTF) to establish a program of regular timing observations of the Vela pulsar. We have used these observations to investigate the stability of PAF beam-weights over time, an important characteristic of these novel receiver systems. The PTF was commissioned in 2009 as a test platform for CSIRO's program of developing PAF receiver technology, but its high availability is well suited to regular monitoring programs requiring modest sensitivity, such as monitoring the Vela pulsar for timing glitches. The wide field of view of the PAF also presents opportunites for monitoring Fast Radio Bursts (FRB).

From 2011 to 2013, I was a member of the Science Operations Team that reconfigured the Parkes Telescope as a facility devoted to the remote observation of projects. New operating procedures and protocols were developed by our team and in December 2012, we succesfully delivered on the new operating model, with full-time remote observing commencing in July 2013.

Since 2004, I have been a member of the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array (PPTA) team under the leadership of Dr Richard Manchester. The PPTA is in effect a gravitational wave detector using the Earth as a test mass. By making precision timing observations of an array of pulsars distributed on the sky, we can investigate the stability of terrestrial clocks and improve our understanding of Solar-system dynamics. We also have the exciting possibility of making a direct detection of gravitational waves. In addition, I am a member of several other pulsar research teams, regularly supporting pulsar observations at Parkes.

I am a member of a small, informal team searching for the missing Apollo 11 SSTV Tapes. I've been searching for these tapes since the late 1990's. In May 2006, I produced a report detailing our efforts to date. This report led to NASA initiating a formal search headed by the Deputy Director of the GSFC, Dolly Perkins. The preliminary findings of the search were released on the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, on 16 July 2009, at a special NASA news conference held in Washington, DC. The final report on the formal NASA search was released a few months later on 4 November 2009. There is more on the Parkes Apollo 11 support here. The DVD of the restored Apollo 11 video can be obtained from JAmml Media.

In May 2007, I was invited to become a member of an Advisory Group that will help to formulate Australia's activities for the International Year of Astronomy (IYA) in 2009. This Advisory Group was a working group of the National Committee of Astronomy, under the auspices of the Australian Academy of Science.

Between 1998 and 2000, I provided research material for, and was a technical advisor on, the feature film "THE DISH". I was also the telescope operator for the film and I extensively liaised between the Working Dog production team and the Observatory staff. It's been a great privilege for me to be associated with this film. Click here to see my report "On Eagle's Wings", about the Parkes Observatory's support of the Apollo 11 mission.

I originally came to Parkes in 1996 to support the Galileo Mission to Jupiter. I managed the Galileo spacecraft tracking operations at the observatory and I performed 1/3 of the daily tracking duties. It was a privilege for me to be associated with the Project.

I have a Bachelor of Applied Science (in Physics) degree from the University of Technology, Sydney. Since the age of 10, I've had a passionate interest in astronomy, and have worked at several observatories throughout the world.

Order of Australia Medal (OAM):

Commendation from Neil Armstrong:

    Apollo 11 SSTV Tape Search: Email from Neil Armstrong to the Apollo 11 SSTV tape search team - 2010. The team included Richard Nafzger (NASA/GSFC), Bill Wood (NASA/GDS retired), Stan Lebar (Westinghouse retired), Colin Mackellar (HSK web site) and John Sarkissian (CSIRO Parkes Observatory).

NASA Awards and Commendations:

    Galileo: Commendation Email and Letter from Joseph A Gleason, Flight Operations Manager, Project Galileo (NASA/JPL) - 1997
    Mars ACP Tracking: NASA Group Achievement Award Certificate and Letter, from Jeffrey Osman, Task Manager (NASA/JPL) - 2003/04
    Huygens Probe Earth Detection: NASA Group Achievement Award Certificate - 2005
    DSN-Parkes MSL EDL Support Team: NASA Group Achievement Award Certificate - 2013

Astronomical Experience:

  • Astronomical Societies:

    • Founder and first President of the Sydney University Astronomical Society, 1982.
    • Honorary Life Member, Sydney University Astronomical Society, 1984.
    • Founder and President of the Endeavour Astronautical Society, 1985-1990.
    • Editor, "Transit" Newsletter (Journal of the Endeavour Astronautical Society), 1987-1988.
    • System Operator and Owner of STARTEL Astronomy and Astronautics Bulletin Board System, 1989.
    • Co-Founder, Australian Space Policy Institute, 1989.
    • Co-Founder and first President of the Central West Astronomical Society, 2002-Present.
    • Chairman, CWAS AstroFest Organising Committee, 2004-Present.
    • Instigator and Administrator, CWAS "David Malin Awards", 2004-Present.
    • Editor, "The Sidereal Times", Journal of the Central West Astronomical Society, 2009-2011.

    • Member, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Astronomical Association, 1977-1982.
    • Member, NSW Astronomical Society, 1982-1987.
    • Member, British Astronomical Association (NSW Branch), 1989-1991.

Extracurricular Interests and Activities:

  • Rotary Club of Parkes:
    • Member, Rotary Club of Parkes, 2004-2009 and Friend of Rotary, 2009-Present.
    • Director of Vocational Service, 2004-2005.
    • Director of International Service, 2005-2007.
    • Award, Arthur Roeder Service to the Rotary Club of Parkes, 2005.
    • Award, Paul Flanagan Shield (Pride of Workmanship Award), 2013.
    • Award, Rotary District 9700 Vocational Excellence Award, 2013.
    • Honour, Paul Harris Fellow, 2013.

  • Red Bend Catholic College (Forbes), Parents and Friends (P&F) Association:
    • Member, Marist Brothers Red Bend Catholic College P&F Association, 2010-Present.
    • Treasurer, 2011-2012.
    • President, 2013-Present.

  • 3rd Parkes Scout Group Parents Committee:
    • Publicity Officer, 2011.
    • President, 2012-2015.

    • Scout - 1st Rosebery Scout Group, 1974-1976.
    • Scout Leader - 1st Daceyville Scout Group, 1983-1988.

  • Photography:
      APOD - 21 July 2011
    • APOD - 9 March 2013
    • Member, Sydney Stereo Camera Club, 1995-Present.
    • 1st Prize, Colour Prints, 5th Bi-Annual Art and Photography Exhibition, 2003.
    • 2nd Prize, Colour Section, Hamazkaine Art and Photography Exhibition, 1994.
    • Course, Professional Studio Techniques, Sydney Institute of Technology (TAFE), 1994.

Other experience and interests:

  • IBM Australia: Associate Systems Engineer, 1985-1987.
      I worked on the launch of the RT-PC Engineering/Scientific workstation at IBM's Asia/Pacific Headquarters at Cumberland Forest, Sydney.

  • Endeavour Software Systems: Owner and programmer, 1987-1990.
      I developed the STARTEL Astronomy and Astronautics Bulletin Board System.

  • Happy Medium Photo Co.: Professional Photographer, 1992-1996.
      A great case of one's hobby being one's work.

  • JAmml Media: Multimedia Productions, 2011-Present.
      3D (stereo) shows, DVD's, posters and photography.

  • Hobbies:
    • Poetry - Reading, not writing. Favourites include John Donne, John Keats and Shakespeare, of course.
    • History - History and philosophy of science, history of space travel, ancient and modern history.
    • Photography - both normal and stereo photography.
  • Sport:
    • Eastern Eagles U11 Soccer Team, 1973.
    • HMEM Senior Basketball Team, 1985-1986.
    • Driving my three children to their sporting events, Present. 😊

My period of study at the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory in Armenia, coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union. I was present in the country during the August 1991 coup attempt and also during the Independence Referendum (held a month later), which resulted in the independence of the Republic of Armenia. I was also present, and witness to, the dissolution of the Soviet Union on 25 December 1991.

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