A compact, passively Q-switched Nd:YAG laser has been developed for the Mercury Laser Altimeter, an instrument on the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging mission to the planet Mercury. The laser achieves 5.4% efficiency with a near-diffraction-limited beam. It passed all space-flight environmental tests at subsystem, instrument, and satellite integration testing and successfully completes a postlaunch aliveness check en route to Mercury. The laser design draws on a heritage of previous laser altimetry missions, specifically the Ice Cloud and Elevation Satellite and the Mars Global Surveyor, but incorporates thermal management features unique to the requirements of an orbit of the planet Mercury.
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