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    Commercial Unstabilized HeNe Lasers

    Sub-Table of Contents

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    This chapter has information on common commercial HeNe lasers with internal or external mirrors that do not have active stabilization, which is the vast majority of common models both in current production, and of historical interest.

    Information on stabilized HeNe lasers (which includes those used for both scientific and metrology applications) has been moved to a new chapter: Commercial Stabilized HeNe Lasers.

    For current production lasers, the manufacturers' Web sites often provide basic specifications. A Google search is usually the easiest way to find them, but most are also linked from the chapter: Laser and Parts Sources. For older lasers, it's often difficult to obtain detailed specs so estimates based on physical size, and then testing may be the only option.

    The sections in this chapter are arranged approximately in alphabetical order by manufacturer.

  • Back to Commercial Unstabilized HeNe Lasers Sub-Table of Contents.

    Coherent HeNe Lasers

    Coherent, Inc. used to be a large supplier of HeNe lasers but haven't manufactured any new HeNe lasers for quite awhile. They sold a limited selection of Melles Griot lasers under their own name. Only the label differed, and sometimes theirs was just pasted over the Melles Griot label. But as of April, 2006, Coherent isn't even doing this anymore and simply refers customers to Melles Griot Lasers.

    Coherent HeNe Laser Heads

    These are just a few random part numbers for HeNe laser heads with Coherent, Inc. labels. They are all actually manufactured by Melles Griot. Everything about them is identical except for the manufacturer name and model number printed on the label. Aside from very minor differences that may be typos (mine or theirs), the specifications listed on the Coherent Web site also match. In fact, something about the label on one laser head I recently acquired seemed strage and indeed, there were two stickers on top of one-another. Peeling off the top Coherent label revealed, guess what?: A Melles Griot label with the same serial number but the MG part number! :)

    Red (632.8 nm):

                      Rated           Melles Griot
     Coherent Model   Power  Length   Model Number
      31-2017-000    0.8 mW   7.00"    05-LHR-601
      31-2010-000    0.8 mW   7.00"    05-LHP-601
      31-2033-000     2 mW   12.40"    05-LHR-321
      31-2025-000     2 mW   12.40"    05-LHP-321
      31-2058-000     4 mW   15.50"    05-LHR-151
      31-2041-000     4 mW   15.50"    05-LHP-151
      31-2074-000     7 mW   18.00"    05-LHR-171
      31-2066-000     7 mW   18.00"    05-LHP-171
      31-2090-000    10 mW   19.05"    05-LHR-991
      31-2082-000    10 mW   19.05"    05-LHP-991
      31-2108-000    17 mW   25.07"    05-LHP-925
      31-2196-000    17 mW   25.07"    05-LHR-925
      31-2140-000    35 mW   40.60"    05-LHP-928 *

    * Cynlindrical head in rectangular case.

    Green (543.5 nm):

                      Rated           Melles Griot
     Coherent Model   Power  Length   Model Number
      31-2264-000    0.3 mW  12.40"    05-LGR-321
      31-2298-000    1.0 mW  20.09"    05-LGP-293?
      31-2772-000    2.0 mW  20.09"    05-LGR-393

    Yellow (594.1 nm):

                      Rated           Melles Griot
     Coherent Model   Power  Length   Model Number
      31-2230-000    2.0 mW  17.95"    05-LYR-173

    Orange (611.9 nm):

                      Rated           Melles Griot
     Coherent Model   Power  Length   Model Number
      31-2207-000    2.0 mW  15.60"    05-LOR-151

    I have tested three specific Coherent models:

                                   Rated  CDRH    New            Melles Griot
     Coherent Model    Wavelength       Power  Power  Power   Length  Model Number
      21-2090-000   632.8 nm (Red)      10 mW  30 mW   17 mW  19.05"   05-LHR-991
      31-2772-000   543.5 nm (Green)   2.0 mW   5 mW  2.7 mW  20.09"   05-LGR-393
      31-2230-000   594.1 nm (Yellow)  2.0 mW  10 mW  4.8 mW  17.95"   05-LYR-173

    The "CDRH Power" is what is listed on the safety sticker. The "New Power" was the average power measured on samples of these laser heads I tested that appear to have never been used, or have seen very little use.

  • Back to Commercial Unstabilized HeNe Lasers Sub-Table of Contents.

    Melles Griot HeNe Laser Tubes and Heads

    The following data came from a variety of sources including an old Melles Griot brochure, their 1999 catalog, and the Melles Griot Web Site.

    All Melles Griot HeNe laser tubes are hard-sealed with essentially unlimited shelf life - 12 years is quoted but for all practical purposes, it is infinite. Most standard tubes have a planar HR mirror with a concave OC mirror with its curvature selected for maximum stability. This long radius hemispherical cavity configuration puts the beam waist at the HR with a slightly diverging beam from the OC. But a compensating curvature on the outer surface of the OC mirror of most laser tubes that are sold as or in standard products results in a positive lens and the beam that exits the laser is quite well collimated. (Specific applications like barcode scanning may call for a divergence other than the minimum possible to avoid the need for an additional external lens.)

    And in the "I always wondered about that" department, the correct way to pronouce Melles Griot is

    MEL-liss (emphasis on the first syllable).
    GREE-o (emphasis on the first syllable).

    This was confirmed both by someone who knew Jan Melles and Richard Griot personally, and from a VP at Melles Griot. But apparently, some of their employees don't even get it right. :)

    Melles Griot Red HeNe Laser Tubes

    These are all red (632.8 nm) tubes operating single longitudinal mode (TEM00) except for models 185, 981, 831, which are multimode (and thus produce much higher power for their size). Many are actually sold as part of complete laser heads (most of the model numbers shown are actually for the laser head if it is an odd number, physical specs are for just the tube).

    The following data came from a variety of sources including an old Melles Griot brochure, the 1999 catalog, and the Melles Griot Web site. Go to "Product Info", "Lasers", "HeNe" or more directly to Melles Griot Lasers, "Helium-Neon (HeNe)". Then click on any location.

    This is not a complete list but probably includes most of those you're likely to come across.

    Red (632.8 nm):

      Minimum  e/2               c/2L      Supply    Nominal               (1)
      Output   Beam    Diver-    Mode     Opr/Strt    Tube    Tube Size   Model
      Power    Diam    gence    Spacing   (Rb=75K)   Current  Diam/Lgth  05-LHR/P-
       .4 mW  .34 mm  2.40 mR  1360 MHz  1.22/5  kV  3.2 mA   23/118 mm    007
       .5 mW  .46 mm  1.70 mR  1272 MHz  1.18/8  kV  4.5 mA   25/127 mm    640
       .5 mW  .47 mm  1.70 mR  1200 MHz  1.29/5  kV  3.3 mA   19/135 mm    002 (2)
       .5 mW  .46 mm  1.77 mR  1063 MHz  1.32/5  kV  4.0 mA   25/150 mm    213
       .5 mW  .49 mm  1.70 mR  1040 MHz  1.25/5  kV  4.5 mA   29/152 mm    700
       .5 mW  .50 mm  1.61 mR  1039 MHz  1.29/5  kV  4.5 mA   37/152 mm    604
       .6 mW  .47 mm  1.70 mR  1078 MHz  1.43/5  kV  4.0 mA   25/146 mm    004
       .6 mW  .85 mm  0.95 mR   787 MHz  1.29/5  kV  4.5 mA   37/200 mm    410
       .8 mW  .47 mm  1.70 mR  1078 MHz  1.33/5  kV  3.0 mA   25/149 mm    006
       .8 mW  .46 mm  1.77 mR  1063 MHz  1.32/5  kV  4.0 mA   25/150 mm    211
       .9 mW  .47 mm  1.70 mR  1078 MHz  1.38/5  kV  3.3 mA   25/147 mm    049
       .9 mW  .48 mm  1.70 mR  1100 MHz  1.20/5  kV  4.0 mA   25/146 mm    704
       .9 mW  .48 mm  8.00 mR  1078 MHz  1.31/5  kV  3.5 mA   25/145 mm    041
       .9 mW  .65 mm  1.24 mR   862 MHz  1.05/5  kV  4.0 mA   28/183 mm    041
      1.0 mW  .53 mm  1.50 mR   883 MHz  1.47/8  kV  4.5 mA   29/178 mm    900
      1.0 mW  .59 mm  1.35 mR   687 MHz  1.79/8  kV  6.5 mA   37/226 mm    110
      1.0 mW  .66 mm  1.25 mR   683 MHz  1.10/8  kV  3.5 mA   28/227 mm    101
      1.5 mW  .53 mm  1.50 mR   889 MHz  1.71/8  kV  4.5 mA   25/178 mm    008
      1.5 mW  .58 mm  1.39 mR   793 MHz  1.66/8  kV  5.0 mA   37/228 mm    130
      2.0 mW  .49 mm  1.65 mR   638 MHz  1.45/10 kV  3.7 mA   29/243 mm    038
      2.0 mW  .55 mm  1.47 mR   822 MHz  1.94/10 kV  4.5 mA   25/191 mm    009
      2.0 mW  .59 mm  1.35 mR   687 MHz  1.77/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/226 mm    219
      2.0 mW  .59 mm  1.35 mR   687 MHz  1.79/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/228 mm    120
      2.0 mW  .63 mm  1.40 mR   641 MHz  1.82/10 kV  4.5 mA   29/241 mm    088
      2.0 mW  .72 mm  1.10 mR   612 MHz  1.85/10 kV  6.5 mA   29/255 mm    080
      2.0 mW  .76 mm  1.06 mR   638 MHz  1.57/10 kV  4.5 mA   29/243 mm    097
      2.0 mW  .76 mm  1.06 mR   636 MHz  1.71/10 kV  5.0 mA   30/250 mm    073
      2.0 mW  .79 mm  1.00 mR   574 MHz  1.81/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/270 mm    320
      2.5 mW  .52 mm  1.53 mR   822 MHz  1.77/10 kV  4.5 mA   25/198 mm    690
      2.7 mW  .58 mm  1.41 mR   694 MHz  1.81/10 kV  4.5 mA   28/226 mm    082
      4.0 mW  .80 mm  1.00 mR   438 MHz  2.29/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/353 mm    140
      5.0 mW  .80 mm  1.00 mR   438 MHz  2.29/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/353 mm    164
      5.0 mW  .80 mm  1.00 mR   438 MHz  2.29/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/353 mm    150
      7.0 mW 1.75 mm  2.05 mR    NA-MM   1.90/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/353 mm    160
      7.0 mW 1.02 mm   .79 mR   373 MHz  2.65/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/410 mm    170
      10 mW   .65 mm  1.24 mR   341 MHz  2.64/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/440 mm    991
      12 mW  1.20 mm  3.40 mR    NA-MM   2.09/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/350 mm    185(3)
      16 mW  1.47 mm  1.40 mR    NA-MM   2.48/10 kV  7.0 mA   37/464 mm    981(3)
      17 mW   .96 mm   .83 mR   267 MHz  3.70/12 kV  7.0 mA   37/600 mm    825
      17 mW   .96 mm   .83 mR   267 MHz  3.70/12 kV  7.0 mA   37/600 mm    925
      25 mW  1.23 mm   .66 mR   165 MHz  5.10/15 kV  8.0 mA   42/930 mm    827
      25 mW  1.42 mm  2.40 mR    NA-MM   3.20/10 kV  7.0 mA   42/590 mm    831
      30 mW  1.48 mm  2.50 mR    NA-MM   3.20/10 kV  7.0 mA   42/590 mm    931
      35 mW  1.23 mm   .66 mR   165 MHz  5.10/15 kV  8.0 mA   42/930 mm    927
      35 mW  1.23 mm   .66 mR   165 MHz  5.10/15 kV  8.0 mA   42/930 mm    928(4)


    1. Models beginning with a "0" are typically designated for barcode scanning applications and have metal end-caps (both ends). They are all TEM00 but the divergence in some cases may be larger than what is possible (and usually provided) due to the specific requirements of the intended application. The increased divergence is produced either by grinding the outer surface of the output mirror with a concave curvature, or by an external negative lens cemented in place.

      LHR models are random polarized; LHP models are linearly polarized. Not all model numbers have both versions. Barcode scanning tubes are nearly all only available random polarized.

      For lower power lasers, models ending in an even number are often (but not always) a bare tube, with the corresponding head being the same number incremented by (or ORed with) 1. For high power lasers, the laser head number is listed.

    2. Model 05-LHR-002-246 is a cute little tube that was found in a hand-held bar code scanner (Metrologic model MH290). The 05-LHR-007 and 05-LHR-640 above it are a close runner-up in the cuteness area though. There is also a model 05-LHR-001, even smaller being about 12 mm x 100 mm, which has a very short life and is only rated for intermittent operation, possibly due to its very small cathode area and gas reservoir.

    3. Models with a mode spacing of "NA-MM" run with multiple transverse modes (not TEM00) and therefore, they don't have a mode spacing specifications since the mode spacing differs slightly for each of the multiple modes. They output greater power for their size compared to TEM00 tubes and may be used for applications like light shows but are unsuitable for holography and interferometry.

    4. Most laser heads are metal cylinders except for the highest power models (35 mW) which are now rectangular to assure the proper orientation for maximum output power and improve stability. They simply mount a cylinder inside a rectangular case. Gravity affects the bore ever so slightly but worse for long lasers and this means that there is a small but noticeable dependence on orientation with long HeNe lasers. Also, the power stability is more dependent on mounting and temperature effects.

    The operating voltage across the tube itself can be found by subtracting the voltage drop across the ballast resistor (I*Rb), from the value listed in the table. Actual starting voltages are typically 3 to 5 times the tube operating voltage (though the specifications may be higher). Note that I've assumed a 75K ballast resistance for all tubes. The actual manufacturer recomendation may differ slightly but 75K should be acceptable for most.

    Both random (LHR) and linearly polarized (LHP) models are available for most of the lasers listed above. The only other difference in specifications for red HeNe lasers between these is their price - about 10 to 15 percent higher for a complete polarized laser. So you can imagine the difference in the tube cost alone since everything else is identical. (The output power of "other-color" linearly polarized HeNe lasers compared to similar size random polarized models, particularly for yellow and green which have very low gain, tends to be much less since the losses through the internal Brewster plate become more significant.)

    And speaking of prices, if you have to ask, you can't afford a new HeNe laser! But since you asked, prices (Summer 2002) from Melles Griot vary from around $300 for a 0.5 mW laser head to over $4,000 for one rated at 35 mW (power supply sold separately)! Prices in Summer 2005 haven't changed that much but only complete systems can be ordered on-line. Prices: $587.83 (0.5 mW) to $4,532.88 (35 mW). Fortunately, surplus prices tend to be much more reasonable - typically between 5 and 20 percent of these depending on actual age and condition as well as many other factors including your luck in finding a good deal. :)

    Melles Griot Other Color HeNe Laser Tubes

    The following "other-color" HeNe tubes have been listed in various Melles Griot catalogs. These are all single mode (TEM00), random polarized, unless otherwise noted. Linearly polarized versions are also available (e.g., yellow would be LYP instead of LYR for those models where this option is available). However, due to the lower gain of most of the "other color" lasing lines, most of the linearly polarized tubes for these wavelengths have much lower output power than physically similar randomly polarized models due to the additional cavity losses introduced by the Brewster plate. (For red tubes, the power outputs are usually identical.) Also note that the output power of these laser in general is much much less than that of the red (632.8 nm) models with similar (in some cases identical) dimensions. Due to the lower gas fill pressure used in at least the yellow and green tubes, their operating life is much shorter than that of red ones - something not advertised for obvious reasons.

    Green (543.5 nm), random polarization:

      Minimum  e/2               c/2L      Supply    Nominal
      Output   Beam    Diver-    Mode     Opr/Strt    Tube    Tube Size   Model
      Power    Diam    gence    Spacing   (Rb=75K)   Current  Diam/Lgth  05-LGR-
      .08 mW  .88 mm  2.35 mR    NA-MM    .88/8  kV  3.7 mA   25/149 mm    004
       .2 mW  .63 mm  1.26 mR   732 MHz  1.56/8  kV  4.5 mA   29/215 mm    025
       .2 mW  .75 mm   .92 mR   373 MHz  2.62/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/410 mm    171
       .3 mW  .81 mm   .99 mR   574 MHz  2.20/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/269 mm    321
       .5 mW  .80 mm  1.01 mR   438 MHz  2.39/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/351 mm    141
       .5 mW  .80 mm  1.01 mR   438 MHz  2.39/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/351 mm    151
       .5 mW 1.35 mm  1.10 mR    NA-MM   1.94/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/351 mm    252
       .8 mW  .89 mm   .92 mR   373 MHz  2.62/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/410 mm    173
      1.0 mW  1.3 mm  1.00 mR    NA-MM   1.87/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/351 mm    161
      1.0 mW  .80 mm   .86 mR   328 MHz  2.75/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/475 mm    293
      1.5 mW  .86 mm   .81 mR   328 MHz  2.75/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/475 mm    193
      2.0 mW  .86 mm   .81 mR   328 MHz  2.75/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/475 mm    393

    Green (543.5 nm), linear polarization:

      Minimum  e/2               c/2L      Supply    Nominal
      Output   Beam    Diver-    Mode     Opr/Strt    Tube    Tube Size   Model
      Power    Diam    gence    Spacing   (Rb=75K)   Current  Diam/Lgth  05-LGP-
       .2 mW  .75 mm   .92 mR   373 MHz  2.62/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/410 mm    171
       .2 mW  .77 mm   .90 mR   438 MHz  2.39/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/351 mm    141
       .3 mW  .77 mm   .90 mR   438 MHz  2.39/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/351 mm    151
       .3 mW  .86 mm   .89 mR   373 MHz  2.62/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/410 mm    173
      1.0 mW  .86 mm   .81 mR   328 MHz  2.75/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/475 mm    193
      1.0 mW  .86 mm   .81 mR   328 MHz  2.75/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/475 mm    293

    Yellow (594.1 nm), random polarization:

      Minimum  e/2               c/2L      Supply    Nominal
      Output   Beam    Diver-    Mode     Opr/Strt    Tube    Tube Size   Model
      Power    Diam    gence    Spacing   (Rb=75K)   Current  Diam/Lgth  05-LYR-
      .?? mW  ??? mm  ?.?? mR    NA-MM    .??/5  kV  3.? mA   25/149 mm    006
      .35 mW  .63 mm  1.26 mR   732 MHz  1.62/8  kV  4.5 mA   29/215 mm    025
      .35 mW  .69 mm  1.09 mR   574 MHz  1.95/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/269 mm    320
      .75 mW  .80 mm  1.01 mR   438 MHz  2.43/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/351 mm    151
      1.0 mW  .75 mm   .92 mR   373 MHz  2.59/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/410 mm    171
      2.0 mW  .75 mm   .92 mR   373 MHz  2.59/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/410 mm    173
      2.0 mW  1.17 mm 1.00 mR    NA-MM   2.09/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/351 mm    161

    Yellow (594.1 nm), linear polarization:

      Minimum  e/2               c/2L      Supply    Nominal
      Output   Beam    Diver-    Mode     Opr/Strt    Tube    Tube Size   Model
      Power    Diam    gence    Spacing   (Rb=75K)   Current  Diam/Lgth  05-LYP-
      1.0 mW  .75 mm   .92 mR   373 MHz  2.59/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/410 mm    173

    Orange (611.9 nm), random polarization:

      Minimum  e/2               c/2L      Supply    Nominal
      Output   Beam    Diver-    Mode     Opr/Strt    Tube    Tube Size   Model
      Power    Diam    gence    Spacing   (Rb=75K)   Current  Diam/Lgth  05-LOR-
       .5 mW  .63 mm  1.26 mR   732 MHz  1.66/8  kV  4.5 mA   29/215 mm    025
      2.0 mW  .80 mm  1.01 mR   438 MHz  2.49/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/351 mm    151
      4.0 mW  1.17 mm 1.00 mR    NA-MM   2.07/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/351 mm    161

    Infra-Red (1,523 nm), random polarization:

      Minimum  e/2               c/2L      Supply    Nominal
      Output   Beam    Diver-    Mode     Opr/Strt    Tube    Tube Size   Model
      Power    Diam    gence    Spacing   (Rb=75K)   Current  Diam/Lgth  05-LIR-
      0.5 mW 1.26 mm  1.59 mR   438 MHz  2.49/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/351 mm    151
      1.0 mW 1.33 mm  1.48 mR   373 MHz  2.97/10 kV  6.0 mA   37/410 mm    171

    Infra-Red (1,523 nm), linear polarization:

      Minimum  e/2               c/2L      Supply    Nominal
      Output   Beam    Diver-    Mode     Opr/Strt    Tube    Tube Size   Model
      Power    Diam    gence    Spacing   (Rb=75K)   Current  Diam/Lgth  05-LIP-
      0.4 mW 1.26 mm  1.59 mR   438 MHz  2.49/10 kV  6.5 mA   37/351 mm    151
      0.8 mW 1.33 mm  1.48 mR   373 MHz  2.97/10 kV  6.0 mA   37/410 mm    171

    Infra-Red (3,391 nm), random polarization:

      Minimum  e/2               c/2L      Supply    Nominal
      Output   Beam    Diver-    Mode     Opr/Strt    Tube    Tube Size   Model
      Power    Diam    gence    Spacing   (Rb=75K)   Current  Diam/Lgth  05-LFR-
      1.0 mW  .83 mm  1.60 mR   438 MHz  2.50/10 kV  6.0 mA   37/351 mm    151

    Infra-Red (3,391 nm), linear polarization:

      Minimum  e/2               c/2L      Supply    Nominal
      Output   Beam    Diver-    Mode     Opr/Strt    Tube    Tube Size   Model
      Power    Diam    gence    Spacing   (Rb=75K)   Current  Diam/Lgth  05-LFP-
      1.0 mW  .83 mm  1.60 mR   438 MHz  2.50/10 kV  6.0 mA   37/351 mm    151

    Note: Some of the listed values for divergence in particular appear to be questionable. For example, for the same beam diameter, diffraction limited divergence should be proportional to wavelength. The discrepency for the 3,391 nm IR tube is particularly striking. Either the divergence or beam diameter are almost certainly incorrect. It probably doesn't matter much though because the 3,391 nm model is no longer manufactured. I also suspect the output power rating for the 05-LGR-171 may be a bit higher than listed in the source for this information.

    Melles Griot Brewster and Zero Degree Window HeNe Tubes

    Here are abbreviated specs for some Melles Griot one and two-Brewster window HeNe tubes and one and two 0 degree (perpendicular?) window HeNe tubes. The Brewster angle is probably optimal for 632.8 nm. Window tubes may be used where external adjustment of the polarization is required and for educational purposes where either a linearly or random polarized beam is desired in an external mirror laser. Power outputs below are for matched optics. Your mileage may vary using mirrors from your junk box!

    Brewster angle window HeNe tubes:

          Minimum   Supply    Supply   Nominal                      Number
          Output    Voltage   Voltage   Tube    Tube Size   Model     of
          Power    Tube Only  Rb=68K   Current  Diam/Lgth  05-LHB-  Windows 
          1.0 mW    1,430 V   1,870 V   6.5 mA  37/222 mm    270       1
          1.0 mW    1,460 V   1,900 V   6.5 mA  37/253 mm    290       2
          3.5 mW    1,080 V   1,520 V   6.5 mA  37/265 mm    370       1
          4.0 mW    1,030 V   1,470 V   6.5 mA  37/265 mm    570       1
          ??? mW    1,??? V   1,??? V   6.5 mA  37/265 mm    580       1
          6.0 mW    1,430 V   1,870 V   6.5 mA  37/351 mm    670       1

    The most common application for one-Brewster HeNe tubes was probably for particle counting since by using an external high quality HR mirror, the intracavity flux can be several watts which makes a speck of anything stand out! (Some large one-Brewster HeNe tubes can do as much as 100 W intracavity, not these!). Passing the air/gas/whatever flow through the cavity of a one-Brewster HeNe laser is similar to passing it through the output beam of a high power laser - at a fraction of the cost (and it's much safer as well since if anything macroscopic in size (like an eyeball or piece of paper) were to block the intracavity beam, lasing simply stops with no damage to vision and no risk of fire!

    The LHB models all have HR mirrors that are probably optimal for 632.8 nm (red) though newer versions, at least, may be quite broadband and better than 99.9 percent from 590 to 680 nm so operation at some of the non-632.8 nm wavelengths may be possible. However, older versions may not have such nice HRs.

    Other variations on these tubes are also produced (though they may be special order). I was given an 05-LGB-580 which has an HR optimized for 543.5 nm (green). With an external green HR, the behavior is very similar to the red version but with loads of circulating green photons instead of red ones. :) I was told that this tube may have been made for the sole purpose of confirming the quality of the mirrors to be used in normal internal mirror HeNe laser tubes. So, I doubt you could buy 1. Maybe 1,000, but not just 1! Applications for such a tube would be very limited due to the low gain as it stops lasing entirely in a few minutes after cleaning the optics just due to dust settling on the B-window.

    The 05-LHB-370, 05-LHB-570, 05-LHB-670, and 05-LHB-580 have wide bores and generally operate with multiple transverse modes to achieve maximum intracavity power in particle counting applications. The 05-LHB-270 and 05-LHB-290 have narrow bores like most conventional HeNe tubes. (The 05-LHB-270 appears physically similar to an 05-LHR-120 except for the Brewster window at one end.) The model 05-LHB-570 is the one-Brewster HeNe tube used in the CLIMET 9048 one-Brewster laser head described in the section: A One-Brewster HeNe Laser Tube. You can't tell from the model numbers but both Melles Griot and Hughes style designs may be used. For example, the 05-LHB-570 looks like a normal Melles Griot tube but with a Brewster angle window frit sealed to the metal end-cap instead of an OC mirror. The 05-LHB-580 looks like a Hughes style tube, but with an optically contacted Brewster window instead of an OC mirror (though some Hughes style polarized HeNe tubes are just one-Brewster tubes with an OC mirror attached to a glass tube that slips over the Brewster stem and is itself glued in place). Thus, the 05-LHB-580 is actually a much higher quality (and more expensive) tube than the 05-LHB-570 but you can't tell this from the catalog listing! Here are diagrams of each type:

    One possible explanation of why the Hughes style design is used for the high quality tubes with optically contacted Brewster windows is that since Hughes already produced HeNe tubes with a glass Brewster stem (as noted above), when Melles Griot took over the Hughes HeNe laser product line, making the modifications for the graded seal to accommodate the fused silica Brewster stem (needed to match the expansion coefficient of the fused silica window) was probably easier than starting with a metal end-cap.

    Zero degree AR coated window HeNe tubes:

          Minimum   Supply    Supply   Nominal                      Number
          Output    Voltage   Voltage   Tube    Tube Size   Model     of
          Power    Tube Only  Rb=68K   Current  Diam/Lgth  05-WHR-  Windows 
          4.0 mW    1,030 V   1,470 V   6.5 mA  37/269 mm    570       1
          6.0 mW    1,670 V   2,110 V   6.5 mA  37/351 mm    252       2
          8.0 mW    1,670 V   2,110 V   6.5 mA  37/351 mm    183       1

    Rather than mirrors, one or both ends of these HeNe tubes have optical flats with very high quality AR coatings to permit the use of external mirrors. One advantage of this arrangement is that external optics can be used to control polarization (the output beam of Brewster tubes is always linearly polarized and can't be changed).

    The 05-WHR-252 and 05-WHR-183 appear to be identical except for the number of windows - and the loss of 2 mW with the two window version!

  • Back to Commercial Unstabilized HeNe Lasers Sub-Table of Contents.

    Metrologic HeNe Lasers

    Metrologic Education Lasers

    Here is info from the Metrologic educational lasers specifications page just prior to their exit from the educational laser market. Metrologic has sold their educational laser business to Industrial Fiber Optics. Similar lasers may be found there. It's not known how many of these will be offered in exactly the same form.

    Red (632.8 nm):

           Output  Size
     Model Power  (LxWxH)    Applications                              Price
     ML800  0.8  239x72x74   Student use deomonstrations              $389.00
     ML810  0.8  239x72x74   Student use demonstrations               $399.00
     ML811  0.5  181x33x47   Pointer, CE approved                     $399.00
     ML855  5.0  540x72x74   Lecture demos, research, holography      $899.00
     ML868  0.8  328x72x74   Modulated, lecture demos, communication  $489.00
     ML869  1.5  328x72x74   Modulated, lecture demos, communication  $499.00

    Green (543.5 nm):

           Output  Size
     Model Power  (LxWxH)    Applications                              Price
     ML815  0.08 181x33x47   CE approved   $719.00

    Metrologic Military Laser Head

    This isn't really a commercial HeNe laser but is still showing up as military surplus from places like Herback and Rademan (H&R) and on eBay.

    The actual markings on a typical unit are:

      PN 11746797-2
      NSN 6920-01-148-4713
      SERIAL NUMBER: 703-045

    There is no doubt this is a military laser. It is a machined stainless steel cylinder about 1.75 inches in diameter by 14 inches in length, with a precision welded flange at the connector-end. (See the photo on the H&R Web site.) It weighs in at over 3 pounds! The tube is potted in a rubbery material which completely fills the entire length of the cylinder with the HV connections via a pair of female contacts. There is no physical difference between the anode and cathode terminals but they are labeled "P1+" and "P2", respectively.

    So, you'd think that this laser has to be at least 5 mW, right? Wrong! What's inside appears to be a 9 or 10 inch tube rated at about 1 mW with a TEM00, random polarized beam. The tube is long enough that polarization variations due to mode cycling are relatively small. The sample I have produces about 1.4 mW. It runs best on about 5 mA at 1,250 V, but remains stable down to about 2 mA. The internal ballast resistor is at least 90K ohms (might be a bit larger). So, almost any HeNe laser power supply designed for a 1 to 2 mW laser should be suitable. H&R recomends their model G7-001 but their much cheaper TM91LSR1495 works fine, and the typical barcode scanner brick would probably be adequate as well even though the current is generally lower (3 to 3.5 mA).

    I don't know if the tube is simply a barcode scanner tube in a fancy expensive package, or one of Metrologic's "hard seal steel ceramic tubes" that were introduced around 1980. Those seem to have had a rather short life cycle since the higher cost might only be justified in, well, military applications. :) And, much cheaper glass tubes with frit-seals - what we know and love today - came along about the same time. By 1987, modern tube construction we well developed and soft seals had faded into history for most HeNe lasers. Someone I know tried a medical X-ray machine on the head cylinder without success. Gouging out all the potting material and ruining the magnificent packaging would hardly be justified to simply find a common barcode scanner tube inside! With the laser powered (to provide internal illumination), I tried looking in the output-end through a dielectric filter that blocked 633 nm and I think there was glass visible inside but it was hard to tell. The side of the mirror looks somewhat strange but maybe that's just because it is coated with the rubber potting compound.

    On the H&R Web site, this laser is listed as a "Ruggedized HeNe Laser Head" used for some sort of weapons training/sighting application. It would also make a decent hammer. If there is a steel ceramic Metrologic tube inside, hammering nails probably wouldn't affect its lasing performance at all. I'd love to know how much one of these beauties cost the American taxpayer. :-)

  • Back to Commercial Unstabilized HeNe Lasers Sub-Table of Contents.

    NEC HeNe Lasers

    An older NEC HeNe laser catalog may be found at Vintage Lasers and Accessories.

  • Back to Commercial Unstabilized HeNe Lasers Sub-Table of Contents.

    Research Electro-Optics Tunable HeNe Lasers

    Research Electro-Optics, Inc. (REO) is probably the only manufacturer of commercially available HeNe lasers that can be tuned to 5 wavelengths by turning a knob. (They also manufacture more conventional internal mirror HeNe lasers including beams in all the usual decorator colors :) as well as a couple of dual wavelength models.

    Here are some specifications for two REO tunable lasers. Both of these models were listed in their 1992 catalog though only the LSTP-1010 shows up in a recent listing. As expected, both are linearly polarized (500:1) since they use a Littrow tuning prism external to the laser tube:

    Note the line at 604.6 nm (orange/yellow) which is almost never seen in other other-color HeNe lasers (at least it isn't supposed to be there). :) A new LSTP-1010 with careful cleaning and alignment may actually produce more than 3 times the spec'd power for 543.5 nm, 594.1 nm, and 604.6 nm.

    One or more of the other visible HeNe wavelengths may also be present in some samples. I've seen one with a small amount of 629.4 nm and heard of another that produces almost 1 mW or 640.1 nm. These are just not guaranteed in the specifications but may result from subtle variations in the mirror coating wavelength reflectivity functions for the Littrow prism and OC.

    There was also an LSTP-0050 which should have similar wavelength specs but the output powers are unknown.

    And for only $4,050.00 plus shipping and handling, you can now buy your very own LSTP-1010 through Edmund Industrial Optics and elsewhere. :)

    These lasers show up on eBay from time-to-time but are almost invariably dead or dying, though I know of one instance where such a laser turned out to work on all lines at near rated power after some tender loving care. (Apparently, its power supply had died so the laser was put on the shelf for who knows how long, but the tube recovered after being run for many hours.) A PMS tunable laser from 1984 is physically similar to the REO version sold today (2007). However, the Littrow prism has been improved and the heater on the OC mirror has been eliminated. Installing a new tube in an old case is possible but will probably not result in quite the same performance as a new laser. The output power for all lines will not be as high as with a new prism and the green line in particular could be down right whimpy. :) Even so, the laser may still exceed the LSTP-1010 specifications (at least initially), though possibly just barely for the green line. However, there may be surprises like some 640.1 nm or 629.4 nm due to differences in the coatings. Of course, since it's likely that a new tube will likely be almost as expensive as a new laser, a tube swap is not going to be cost effective.

    Some photos (from Dave):

    (From: Lynn Strickland (

    The five lines are 543.5, 594.1, 604.6, 611.9, and the common (red) 632.8 nm. You might see a flash at 629.4 nm and at 640.1 nm, but nothing to write home about. The 629 and 640 nm lines are so weak, and so close to 633 that they're sometimes hard to distinguish. There should be nothing at the IR lines (1,153, 1,523 or 3,391 nm).

    As originally designed, these lasers used a Brewster window tube with a Littrow prism as the wavelength selection mechanism. The tube's internal mirror was a broad band output coupler. Don't know if it's changed, but I doubt it. (Same in 2007. --- Sam.)

    The fundamental design issue is that the optimum Bore-to-Mode Ratio (BMR) for green is much higher than for red. (BMR is the ratio of limiting aperture size to mode radius. To get TEM00 operation for green, the optimal number is about 4.2, for red it's about 3.5.) If you know the wavelength, mirror curvature, and spacing, you can calculate the mode radius at any point in the cavity. The capillary bore serves as the limiting aperture, so adjusting bore length and bore diameter sets the BMR, which in turn determines transverse mode purity.

    Thus, if you optimize the BMR for green power (which you have to do), the red is under-apertured, and has something like 50% off-axis modes. It's getting close to a doughnut-mode.

    REO builds some of the highest 'Q' Brewster tubes in the world (probably THE highest), exclusively for the company, Particle Measuring Systems (PMS). REO and PMS used to be one in the same, but the owner sold off the particle counter biz a few years back, for something like $75 million. They now have some sort of supply agreement. The REO tubes aren't the most robust or mechanically stable, but if you get them packaged right, probably some of the highest power you can get from a given tube length. This is mostly due to coatings (all Ion Beam Sputtered), and a super-polishing process they have for substrates. As they say, it's all done with mirrors. ;)

    A green Brewster tube IS a bitch! The original REO (PMS) tube was a 5 mW size - about 15" long. They did a soft-seal on the B-window; because it's fused silica. Don't know if they've gone to optical contacting/graded seal now - I'd hope so.

    I think REO added a 7 mW, maybe even a 10 mW size for power. I recall seeing some longer ones at a trade show. As for cavity power, I've seen an REO B-tube with 2 HRs do almost 45 Watts of intra-cavity circulating power. They're probably higher than that now. These puppies are like $1,700 each in volume and only sold to PMS - pretty hard to come by.

    (From: Sam.)

    There is a weak line at 635.2 nm which could also show up as its gain is higher than that of the 594.1 nm and 604.6 nm lines. 640.1 nm is actually quite strong - next in line after 632.8 nm. See the section: Instant HeNe Laser Theory for a listing. But it's probably killed by the mirror coating selectivity.

    Here is a photo of the PMS One-Brewster HeNe Laser Tube and a closeup of the Littrow Prism Tuning Assembly from PMS Tunable HeNe Laser showing its proximity to the one-Brewster tube's Brewster window. There are adjustments for wavelength and transverse (alignment). The Littrow prism is the shiny thing at the far left. The Brewster window is next to it. There is normally a tight fitting metal cover to keep out dust which has been removed to take the photo. Except for the high quality internal OC mirror and window, the HeNe tube itself isn't that much different from the common variety, though the metal envelope - typical of PMS/REO tubes - may help stability. It does have a heater coil on the OC mirror mount. According to a PMS patent (4,740,988: Laser Device Having Mirror Heating), this is to eliminate color centers that may develop in the mirror coatings from exposure to UV in the bore light. (These heaters are on some but not all older PMS HeNe laser tubes.) The resistance is around 31 ohms and it runs on 9 VAC from a small transformer. I've never really seen any definitive improvement in anything when running the heater. New tubes don't need it. The rest of this laser is unremarkable - a brick power supply and case. :)

    PMS/REO Tunable Laser Care and Feeding

    Here are some notes on using the PMS/REO LSTP tunable lasers. All models from pre-1984 (PMS) to the present (REO) are physically similar and most parts are interchangeable. However, older lasers will include a small heater coil that slips onto the OC mirror of the tube, powered by a transformer glued to the bottom of the case. The heater was supposed to eliminate "color centers" in the mirror coating. However, I've yet to be convinced this made the slightest difference with any of the tunable or "other color" HeNe lasers on which it was present. It's not present on newer lasers.

    CAUTION: The Brewster-end of the tube is all glass and fragile. The high voltage is also exposed in that area. So, if you have removed the cover of the laser, take care. It would be a darn shame if a reflex response to contact with the HV resulted in broken glass. :(

    CAUTION: DO NOT attempt to remove or even loosen the screws at the bottom of the rear plate. The adjustable Littrow prism mount is directly attached to the rear plate and this is joined to the Brewster stem of the tube via an O-ring-sealed box with a removable cover. Removing the rear plate without observing exactly how this affects the relationship of the Littrow prism mount to the tube's Brewster stem and taking appropriate precautions may also break the tube.

    CAUTION: DO NOT turn the micrometer adjustments further than necessary, especially in the tighten direction. I believe there should be enough clearance between the Littrow prism and Brewster window such that contact is not possible, but you really don't want to find out this isn't the case. The total useful range of the Color knob is less than 1 full turn and perhaps 1/4 turn for the Transverse knob. You won't find a blue line by turning the Color knob past green! :)

    If the laser needs to be opened, take out the screws ONLY at the top at each end and lift the lid straight up. DO NOT remove or even loosen the screws at the bottom of the rear plate. Note that since the resonator is formed by all parts of the laser case, removing the lid will likely change alignment enough to matter. Thus, it is best done with the laser lasing red so adjustments can be made. Of course, if the laser doesn't work, the alignment won't matter much.

    Proposal for High Efficiency Tunable HeNe Laser

    If this has been done (which is very likely), I'd like to see the reference or patent. If not, I'm claiming it as my invention. :)

    One problem that limits power in the REO tunable HeNe laser are losses through the Brewster window of the 1-B tube. The Brewster angle is only correct at a single wavelength so there will still be some Fresnel (reflection) at all the others. And, even super polished fused silica isn't perfect so there will still be some scatter. In addition, matching the orientation of the prism and the Brewster window of the tube is also critical to maximize power. If these issues could be eliminated, the available power at all wavelengths would increase, but this would be especially dramatic for the very weak 543.5 nm (green) and 594.1 (yellow). So, what I suggest is to place the tuning prism inside the tube envelope mounted on a two-axis bearing. Coupling through the glass can be via a pair of magnets to adjust tuning (pitch) and transverse mirror alignment (yaw). This is quite simple mechanically. Even simpler would be to attach the tuning prism assembly (also inside the tube) via a flexible metal bellows adjusted via an external mount similar to the one in the present LSTP tuanble laser. In either design, 2 of 3 Brewster surfaces are eliminated from the intracavity beam path. The 3rd one is for the Littrow prism which unfortunately cannot be eliminated unless a high efficiency grating could substitute for the prism. Dust collecting on the optics is also, of course, no longer a problem. :) And, a glass-to-metal or frit seal could be used in place of the soft seal or optically contacted seal presently used to minimize stresses in the Brewster window.

  • Back to Commercial Unstabilized HeNe Lasers Sub-Table of Contents.

    Siemens/LASOS HeNe Lasers

    Here are the HeNe lasers currently available from LASOS Laser-Fertigung GmbH. Many of these were originally manufactured by Siemens, since acquired by LASOS. The "LGK" prefix denotes a complete laser head or "laser module" as LASOS calls them. The "LGR" prefix denotes a bare tube. A much more limited selection of bare tubes is available now at least. Red, green, yellow, and orange tubes all use the same prefix. The chart below is a conbination of what's on the LASOS Web site, a 1990 Siemens catalog, and other Siemens/LASOS lasers that I've come across. It's possible that both heads and tubes are/were available for some of the model numbers even if they aren't listed.

    An older Siemens HeNe laser catalog may be found at Vintage Lasers and Accessories.

    Legend for Type: SM=Single mode, TEM00; MM=Multimode, P=Linearly polarized.

    Red (632.8 nm):

                                 Model Number
         Power      Type      Head          Tube
         0.5 mW     SM                    LGR-7656
         0.5 mW     SM P    LGK-7650      LGR-7650
         0.5 mW     SM                    LGR-7651
         0.5 mW     SM                    LGR-7651A
         0.6 mW     SM      LGK-7655      LGR-7655
         0.75 mW    SM      LGK-7639
      0.75-1.0 mW   SM      LGK-7657
       0.8-1.4 mW   SM                    LGR-7655-N
         1.0 mW     SM      LGK-7655-S    LGR-7655-S
         1.0 mW     SM      LGK-7641-S    LGR-7641-S
         1.2 mW     SM      LGK-7632      LGR-7632
         1.5 mW     SM                    LGR-7649
         2.0 mW     SM                    LGR-7621S
         2.0 mW     SM      LGK-7672
         2.0 mW     SM P    LGK-7634      LGR-7634
       2.2-3.2 mW   SM P    LGK-7634
         5.0 mW     SM      LGK-7627      LGR-7627
         5.0 mW     SM P    LGK-7628      LGR-7628
         5.0 mW     MM      LGK-7621-MM   LGR-7621-MM
         5.2 mW     SM P    LGK-7628-1    LGR-7628-1
       5.5-7.5 mW   SM P    LGK-7628-L
         7.0 mW     SM      LGK-7627-M
        10.0 mW     SM      LGK-7653-8
        10.0 mW     SM P    LGK-7654-8
        10.0 mW     MM      LGK-7627-MM   LGR-7627-MM
        12.0 mW?    SM      LGK-7638
        15.0 mW?    ?? ?    LGK-7654-15
        15.0 mW     SM      LGK-7665
        15.0 mW     SM P    LGK-7665-P
        18.0 mW     SM      LGK-7665-18
        18.0 mW     SM P    LGK-7665-P18
        20.0 mW     SM      LGK-7665-20
        20.0 mW     MM      LGK-7658-7
        25.0 mW     SM P    LGK-7626-L
        25.0 mW     SM P    LGK-7626
        25.0 mW     SM P    LGK-7676-L
        28.0 mW     SM P    LGK-7676
        30.0 mW     SM P    LGK-7626-S
        30.0 mW     SM P    LGK-7676-S

    Green (543.5 nm):

                                 Model Number
         Power      Type      Head          Tube
         0.5  mW    SM      LGK-7770      LGR-7770
         0.5  mW    SM P    LGK-7774
         0.5  mW    SM P    LGK-7786-P50
         0.75 mW    SM P    LGK-7786-P75
         1.0  mW    SM      LGK-7770-S
         1.0  mW    SM      LGK-7785-P100
         1.0  mW    SM P    LGK-7786-P100
         1.05 mW    SM P    LGK-7786-P
         1.2  mW    SM      LGK-7785-P120
         1.5  mW    SM      LGK-7785-P150
         1.5  mW    SM P    LGK-7786-P150
         2.0  mW    SM      LGK-7785-P200
         2.5  mW    SM      LGK-7785-P250 (on request)

    Yellow (594.1 nm):

         Power      Type     Model
         1.5  mW    SM      LGK-7511
         2.0  mW    SM      LGK-7512 P

    Orange (611.9 nm):

         Power      Type     Model
         2.0 mW     SM      LGK-7411

    More complete specifications are available at the LASOS Web site.

    Siemens LGK-7638 HeNe Laser Head

    These lasers must have been used in a high speed printer or scanner. Surplus units show up on eBay and elsewhere quite frequently but I have never seen any specifications. The laser head itself is about 3 inches in diameter and 21 inches in length but the tube inside is the typical diameter of medium power HeNe lasers. I've finally had a chance to evaluate a pair of LGR-7638s, the laser tube inside the LGK-7638 laser head.

    The LGR-7638 laser tube is generally unremarkable except for the reasonably precise three-screw mirror adjuster at the cathode end. There is enough range that as long as you don't lose the beam entirely, it should be low risk to tweak mirror alignment on this laser. In all other respects, the tube looks like a stretch version of shorter Siemens/LASOS bare tubes with two spider bore supports and one square getter.

    The following are based on physical measurements of an intact LGK-7638 laser head and my tests of a two samples of somewhat less than pristine samples of the LGR-7638 tube alone. Only one of these came close to new specs with a maximum output power of about 13 mW. Thus the electrical measurements are not likely to be exact, as operating voltage and optimal current may change with use.

    The measurements and healthier of the tube samples were provided by Alan Scrimgeour in response to a posting on alt.lasers.

    Siemens LGK-7676 HeNe Laser Head

    This is among the largest HeNe lasers in current production. Its overall specifications are similar to that of the SP-107/127/907 though the details of its construction differ. Information can be found at the LASOS Web site under "Products", "HeNe", then click on "Modules". There are a number of versions of this laser with different output powers but they are all mechanically similar (probably a production sort in at least some cases). Photos of a packaged LGK-7676 can be found in the Laser Equipment Gallery under "Siemens High Power Helium-Neon Laser".

    The LGK-7676 resonator consists of 4 full length 5/8 inch diameter rods joined by 10 thick plates. The tube is secured to these plates using sets of 4 screws with padded tips going in from all four sides at most locations. Some sets are adjustable for bore centering and optimizing straightness. The end-plates hold the mirror mounts. Coarse mirror adjustment is via some thinner rods attached to the ends of the main support rods, with pairs of nuts but no springs. This should permit the mirror mounts to be removed and replaced for cleaning of the optics without requiring coarse realignment. Fine mirror alignment uses Allen's head screws to press on rods which slightly warp the aluminum to which the actual mirror cell is attached. It works reasonably well with good sensitivity and repeatability except that the two adjustments at each end aren't quite independent. Note that with this scheme, walking of the mirrors requires turning the screws at the two ends in opposite directions. The fine adjustments are similar to those in the SP-907 but the coarse adjustments for that laser are three spring loaded nuts which means that removing the mirror mounts requires complete realignment (unless you are *really* good at counting turns!).

    The entire resonator assembly is mounted on a thick piece of machined L-shaped aluminum fastened with screws at only two locations. However, under about half the thick plates (see above) on both sides of the "L" are adjustment screws to provide some sort of additional support.

    The LGK-7676 uses a coaxial tube with about half of its bore exposed (as opposed to the side-arm tube with totally exposed bore used in Spectra-Physics lasers). While this does result in a more compact package (overall dimensions under 3"x3"x39"), there is less space for IR suppression magnets. In fact, the LGK-7676 only has two sets of magnets (in proximity to less than 25 percent of the bore) for this purpose but could definitely use more. Adding moderate strength magnets (greater than refrigerator strength but much less than rare-earth disk drive strength) almost anywhere along the bore - even outside the large gas reservoir - resulted in a noticeable increase in output power - about 1 percent for a single magnet. I would guess that with enough magnets, a 10 to 20 percent boost would be possible.

    There are both anode and cathode ballast resistors of 81K and 27K, respectively. The power supply connector has 3 pins - anode, cathode, and Earth ground. But note that this pinout is not the same as on the physically similar connector on Spectra-Physics lasers. Thus, a Spectra-Physics power supply cannot be used on a Siemens/LASOS laser or vice-versa without modification or bad things will happen to the laser head and/or power supply. Check the power supply and laser head wiring to be sure they are compatible if not originally mated!

    The sample I tested is an LGK-7676S with a spec'd output power of at least 30 mW. Of course, since I like to spend as little as possible to acquire these things, mine is a high mileage tube which apparently served hard duty in some sort of high speed printer since there was toner all over it. These are turning up on eBay (and possibly from surplus outfits directly), probably being replaced when their output power drops below a certain value by tiny diode lasers. :)

    I was able to run it on my SP-255 exciter only by reducing the anode ballast resistor to 60K and removing the cathode ballast resistor entirely. Prior to this surgery, even with the input voltage to the SP-255 at 140 VAC (the upper limit of my Variac), it would only run for a minute or two (and only if it felt like it) and then cut out, not to restart for several minutes. With the modifications, it will now run all day at 120 VAC input, though restarting was sometimes still a bit of a problem until I added circuitry in an external pod to the SP-255 to boost its starting voltage. (Note that this may not be needed for LGK-7676, SP-907/107/127, and similar size lasers with lower mileage tubes.) See the section: Enhancements to SP-255.) The SP-207 should be able to drive this laser without problems but I don't happen to have one of those.

    After bore straightening and mirror adjustments, I was able to squeeze more than 19 mW out of the laser at a somewhat reduced operating current (10 mA instead of the spec'd 11.5 +/- 0.5 mA). (I'm using the lower current only so I can look forward to increased power by a simple tweak in the future.) It would exceed 20 mW if when fully warmed up, the laser was shut off for 30 seconds and then restarted. But the output power would drop back to its previous level over the course of a minute or so once the "good" gas had time to migrate back out of the bore or something. :)

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    Some Spectra-Physics HeNe Lasers

    Spectra-Physics has manufactured some of the smallest and largest commercial HeNe lasers. There is a model 007 HeNe laser tube used in hand-held HeNe laser-based barcode scanners. This tube is only 4.75" (118 mm) long with a diameter of about 7/8" (22 mm). (There are at least three versions of the 007 tube: the 007-1, 007-2, and 007-3, which appear to be functionally very similar if not identical. The Melles Griot 05-LHR-007 is also nearly identical.) It requires about 2.75 mA at 900 V and puts out 0.5 to 1+ mW. The largest Spectra-Physics HeNe laser, and possibly the largest commercial HeNe laser of all time, was the nearly 2 meter long SP-125, described in more detail below.

    Regrettably, Spectra-Physics no longer manufactures any HeNe laser tubes. They appear to sell selected complete HeNe laser systems from Research Electro-Optics, Inc. (REO) and the SP-117A stabilized HeNe laser - but even that uses a Melles Griot tube!

    Here is a chart of some older Spectra-Physics HeNe lasers. Most of these are from a 1988 catalog (along with 1988 prices). Not all information was available, thus the "???" in places. You can go to the Spectra-Physics (now Newport) Web site for current models (which are now quite limited, possibly to the SP-117A frequency/intensity stabilized laser only). But the hobbyist and experimenter is much more likely to acquire the classic ones below (unless very well endowed!). Typical output power when new may have been 50 percent or more greater than the value listed.

    Scans of original Spectra-Physics brochures and catalogs which include some of these lasers can be found at Vintage Lasers and Accessories.

     Laser    Wave-  Mirrors  Output   Exciter  Original
     Model   length  Int/Ext   Power    Model    Price    Description/Comments
     107    632.8 nm    E      30 mW?    207    $  ?,???  Similar to 127 (1)
     112    632.8 nm    E    10-30 mW    200    $  6,000  RF excited
     115    632.8 nm    E     3-6 mW     200    $  4,650  RF excited, 24" resntr.
     116    632.8 nm    E      25 mW     250    $ 13,250   "     "  tuning prism
     120    632.8 nm    E       6 mW     256    $  1,980  Small lab laser (2)
       -01  1,152 nm    E       1 mW      "     $  2,800    "         "
       -02  3,391 nm    E     1.25 mW     "     $  2,800    "         "
     122    632.8 nm    E       5 mW?    253A   $  ?,???  Short version of 124 (3)
     123    632.8 nm    E      10 mW?     I     $  ?,???  Between 120 and 124
     124B   632.8 nm    E      15 mW     255    $  4,900  Popular lab laser (3)
       -01  1,152 nm    E       2 mW      "     $  5,500    "         "
       -02  3,391 nm    E       5 mW      "     $  5,500    "         "
     125A   632.8 nm    E      50 mW     261A   $ 16,000  Huge-head >125 lbs. (4)
       -01  1,152 nm    E      10 mW      "     $ 17,500   more than 6 feet long.
       -02  3,391 nm    E      10 mW      "     $ 17,500    "         "
     127    632.8 nm    E      35 mW      I     $ ??,???  39 inch resonator (1)
     130    632.8 nm    E     0.6 mW      I     $  1,525  Self contained (5)
     130B   632.8 nm    E     1.5 mW      I     $  1,225    "         "
     130C   632.8 nm    E     1.5 mW      I     $  ?,???    "         "
     131    632.8 nm    E     1.0 mW     251    $  2,350
            632.8 nm    E     1.0 mW     252    $  2,825
     132    632.8 nm    I       2 mW      I     $    ???  Self contained (6)
     132P   632.8 nm    I     1.8 mW      I     $    ???  Self contained (6)
     132M   632.8 nm    I     3.5 mW      I     $    ???    "         "
     133    632.8 nm    I       2 mW     233    $    ???  Separate rect. head (5)
     133M   632.8 nm    I     3.5 mW     233    $    ???    "         "
     133P   632.8 nm    I     1.8 mW     233    $    ???    "         "
     134    632.8 nm    I     3-5 mW      I     $    ???  Self contained
     135    632.8 nm    I     3-5 mW     235    $    ???  Separate rect. head (5)
     136    632.8 nm    I       2 mW     236    $    ???  Cyl. head, rand. pol. (8)
     136P   632.8 nm    I       2 mW     236    $    ???  Cyl. head, lin. pol. (8)
     137    632.8 nm    I       2 mW     236    $    ???  Cyl. head, rand. pol. (8)
     137P   632.8 nm    I       2 mW     236    $    ???  Cyl. head, lin. pol. (8)
     138    632.8 nm    I       2 mW     236    $    ???  Cyl. head, rand. pol. (8)
     138P   632.8 nm    I       2 mW     236    $    ???  Cyl. head, lin. pol. (8)
     142    632.8 nm    I       2 mW     248    $    ???  Separate rect. head (5)
     142P   632.8 nm    I     1.5 mW     248    $    ???    "             "
     143    632.8 nm    I       4 mW     247    $    ???    "             "
     143P   632.8 nm    I     3.5 mW     247    $    ???    "             "
     144    632.8 nm    I       5 mW     247    $    ???    "             "
     144P   632.8 nm    I     4.5 mW     247    $    ???    "             "
     145    632.8 nm    I       2 mW     248    $    ???  Separate cyl. head
     145P   632.8 nm    I     1.5 mW     248    $    ???    "            "
     146    632.8 nm    I       4 mW     247    $    ???    "            "
     146P   632.8 nm    I     3.5 mW     247    $    ???    "            "
     147    632.8 nm    I       5 mW     247    $    ???    "            "
     147P   632.8 nm    I     4.5 mW     247    $    ???    "            "
     155    632.8 nm    I     0.5 mW      I     $    310  Educational laser (6)
     156    632.8 nm    I     ??? mW      I     $    ???    "        "
     157    632.8 nm    I       3 mW      I     $    525  Self contained
     159    632.8 nm    I       5 mW      I     $    630    "        "
     102R   632.8 nm    I       2 mW     212    $    610  Cyl. head, rand. pol.
     102P   632.8 nm    I     1.5 mW      "     $    ???  Cyl. head, lin. pol.
     105R   632.8 nm    I       5 mW     215    $    ???  Cyl. head, rand. pol.
     105P   632.8 nm    I       5 mW      "     $    ???  Cyl. head, lin. pol.
     117    632.8 nm    I       1 mW     ????   $    ???  Stabilized (7)
     117A   632.8 nm    I       1 mW     217A   $  3,500    "    "    "
     117C   632.8 nm    I       1 mW      I     $    ???    "    "    "
     118A   632.8 nm    I       1 mW     218A   $  ?,???    "    "    "
     119    632.8 nm    I     0.07 mW    259    $  5,775    "    "    "


    1. The SP-107 (and the apparently similar SP-907) are versions of the tube assembly used in the SP-127 intended for OEM applications and configured in an open resonator (without covers). (There does appear to be a sort of enclosure with electrical heaters for the SP-907 that but it was probably from some specific application.) As far as I know, these are the only large-frame SP lasers that have been recently in production but have not been manufactured since about 2005. The tubes used in these lasers are the SP-082 with various -dash numbers indicating the output power sort. The original SP-207 exciter was similar to the SP-255 but its linear regulator appears to have a larger compliance range (with more pass transistors as well). The newer SP-207A/A-1/B power supplies are switchmode based potted bricks.

    2. Several other exciters may be used with the SP-120 including the SP-247 and SP-249.

    3. In addition to the SP-124B, there were also SP-124 and SP-124A lasers. The SP-124 may have used the SP-253A exciter rather than the SP-255. However, the SP-122, a much smaller laser but similar in construction to the SP-124, appears to have used the SP-253A as well. The SP-253A exciter uses a switchmode power supply which sends 225, 300, or 375 VAC (pin selectable or by internal taps depending on specific model) to a potted voltage multiplier/start module in the laser head.

    4. There is also an SP-250 exciter for the SP-125 laser which is the RF power supply option. It appears to include an SP-200 RF exciter, possibly a pair of them, and other stuff in a larger box.

    5. The SP-135 is physically identical to the SP-133 except for a slightly longer laser head. The SP-132M and SP-133M are multimode and slightly higher power than the SP-132 and SP-133. The SP-132P is polarized using a ferrite magnet assembly that screws in place with its poles close to the bore. However, the SP-133P is polarized using a coaxial (rather than side-arm) tube with an internal Brewster plate. The SP-133P polarization ratio is much better than that of the SP-132P: 500:1 compared to 30:1. The SP-232s and SP-233s are basically the same laser but the SP-232s are self contained and the SP-233s are separate power supply and laser head. Same for the SP-234 and SP-235. The power supplies for the SP-130/B/C, SP-132s, SP-133s, SP-134, and SP-135 are nearly identical except for slight changes in the transformer voltage and the number and value of ballast resistors. However, the SP-130B PSU also has a primary side pot to adjust tube current. The SP-133s and SP-135 have a potted HV section which is essentially non-repairable. The SP-130s HV section may not be totally potted but still likely difficult to get into.

    6. Some versions of the SP-155 and SP-132 may be quite similar but most of the SP-132s have a spiffier enclosure which is styled more along the lines of the SP-120 and larger SP lasers. That basic SP-132 was also slightly more powerful than the SP-155 being rated 1.0 mW minimum while the SP-155 is rated 0.95 mW maximum (nominal power probably about 0.5 mW). The spiffier SP-132 is rated 2 mW. The SP-156 looks very similar to the SP-155 but may be slightly higher power - perhaps the low cost version of the spiffier SP-132. (I'm now curious as to where the info about some versions of the SP-155 and SP-132 being in similar enclosures. Nothing I've seen recently shows anything like this.)

    7. The SP-117 is a frequency stabilized HeNe laser. The SP-117A adds an amplitude stabilized mode but is otherwise similar, consisting of a cylindrical head and mating power supply/controller. The SP-117C is functionally similar to the SP-117A but consists of a bare tube mounted on a platform with the controller electronics and HeNe laser power supply, intended for OEM applications, and requires a separate user-provided DC power supply. All of these lasers have a nominal optical frequency of 473.61254 THz. I don't know how the SP-117A and SP-118A differ. See the section: SP-117 and SP-117A Stabilized Single Frequency HeNe Lasers. On some versions, the controller may be labeled the same as the system - i.e., 117A rather than 217A. The SP-119 is a really old stabilized HeNe laser which may be locked to the peak of the neon gain curve using the Lamb dip (rather than the slope as is used with most other stabilized HeNe lasers including the SP-117/A). I have no idea why it has a higher model number since it appears in a 1964 brochure, well before the SP-117. The minimum output power of all the 117s is for each of the two orthogonal polarized modes. The minimum output power of the 119 is total as there is only a single mode.

    8. The SP-136/P, SP-137/P, and SP-138/P all have a variable attenuator that allows for the output power to be varied from less than 1 mW to greater than 2 mW. The only difference between the model numbers is the type of head cylinder: SP-136/P is aluminum with precision mounting surfaces, SP-137/P is phenolic (plastic), and SP-138/P is aluminum.

    9. Tube part numbers for various SP lasers:

      • Barcode (1 mW): 088 or 088-1, 1,400 V, 4.5 mA, mode spacing 640 MHz.
      • SP-117/A/B (2 mW, Stabilized): 088-2 1,700 V, 4.5 mA, mode spacing 640 MHz.
      • SP-119 (0.07 mW): 053.
      • SP-120 (5 mW): 120D.
      • SP-127/107/907 (25 mW): 082-2.
      • SP-127/107/907 (35 mW): 082-3 (or may be 082- with no number).
      • SP-132 (1 mW): 060, 060-1?.
      • SP-135 (4 mW): 074-4.
      • SP-147 (5 mW): 087-1.
      • SP-155 (0.5 mW): 060-4.
      • SP-159 (5 mW): 076-5.

    10. Additional tube numbers taken out of old SP price lists:

      • 060 (1 mW, sidearm, TEM00)
      • 060-4 (0.5 mW, sidearm, TEM00)
      • 060-5 (2 mW, sidearm, TEM00)
      • 063 (3 mW, sidearm, multimode)
      • 071-2 (2 mW, coaxial)
      • 072 (1.8 mW, coaxial, polarized)
      • 072-2 (1.4 mW, coaxial, polarized)
      • 076-3 (3 mW, sidearm, TEM00)
      • 076-4 (4 mW, sidearm, TEM00)
      • 076-5 (5 mW, sidearm, TEM00)
      • 078-1 (6 mW, sidearm, multimode)
      • 084-1 (2 mW, coaxial)
      • 084-2 (1.5 mW, coaxial, polarized)
      • 084-3 (1 mW, coaxial)
      • 084-4 (1 mW, coaxial, polarized)
      • 086-2 (0.8 mW, coaxial, hardseal)
      • 086-2 (1 mW, coaxial, hardseal)

    For more details on the popular large-frame Spectra-Physics HeNe lasers, see the next section.

    SP-120, 124, and 125 HeNe Laser Specifications

    Here are the nearly complete specifications for several high quality scientific/research type HeNe lasers which have resonators with external mirrors. The SP-125, in particular, is definitely a BIG laser - size-wise at laest - with a resonator length of over 1-3/4 METERS! These are the type of laser that might turn up in the long forgotten and dusty storage room of a university physics/optics or industrial research lab. Both of the larger models permit the mirror assemblies to be replaced (or at least as an option at the time of purchase) to select the output 'color' - normal HeNe red (632.8 nm), near IR (1152.3 nm), and medium IR (3391.3 nm). (It's possible that magnets may also need to be added/removed depending on the desired wavelength though this is not mentioned in the spec sheets. For an explanation, see the section: Magnets in High Power or Precision HeNe Laser Heads.)

    It should be possible to possible to obtain orange (611.9 nm), yellow (593.9 nm), and green (543.5 nm) output with similar modifications (at least for the longer lasers), though the gain of these lines is only a fraction of that for the red or IR lines (1152.3 nm and 3391.3 nm) so output power will be lower.

    Some photos of these lasers can be found in the Laser Equipment Gallery under "Spectra-Physics Helium-Neon Lasers". Old brochures can be found at Vintage Lasers and Accessories.

     Spectra-Physics Laser:   SP-120 (1)     SP-124B (2)            SP-125A
       Wavelength (nm):          632.8   632.8 1152.3 3391.3   632.8 1152.3 3391.3
       Minimum Power (mW):        5.0     15     2.5   5.0      50     10     10
        Beam Diameter (mm):       .65     1.1   1.4    2.5      1.8   2.4    4.1
        Beam divergence (mR):     1.7     .75   1.0    1.8       .6    .8    1.4
        Transverse Mode:                              TEM00
        Degree of Polarization:                      1000:1
        Angle of Polarization:   Vertical (+/-5 Degrees except SP-120, +/-20 Deg.)
        Resonator Configuration:                  Long Radius
        Resonator Length (cm):     39         70.1                   177.0 
             Mode Spacing:      385 MHz     214 MHz                  85 MHz
        Plasma Excitation:   +3.7 kV, 6 mA +5 kV, 11 mA     -6 kV at 30 to 35 mA
                                                          (RF Opt: 15 W at 46 MHz)
        Starting Method:         ~8 kV         ~12 kV    Trigger pulse on isolated
                                (Direct from Exciter)      bar adjacent to tube.
        Beam Amplitude Noise:   <.3% RMS      <.3% RMS         <2% RMS (RF: <.5%)
        Beam Amplitude Ripple:  <.5% RMS      <.2% RMS        <.5% RMS (RF: <.6%)
        Long Term Power Drift:              <5% over 8 hours and 10 °C
        Warmup Time:           30 Minutes    30 Minutes             1 Hour
        Operating Temperature:                      10 to 40 °C
        Operating Altitude:            Sea Level to 3,000 m (10,000 ft.)
        Operating Humidity:                       Below Dew Point
        Power Supply:                    115/230 VAC, 50/60 Hz, +/-10%
        Exciter Model (DC):   SP-256 (1)      SP-255 (2)            SP-261A
        Input Power:            50 W           125 W                 456 W
        Laser Head Size:      3.26" (W) x    3.26" (W) x            ??? (W) x
                              3.66" (H) x    3.66" (H) x            ??? (H) x
                             18.48" (L)     32.00" (L)              ??? (L)
        Laser Head Weight:       7.5 lb         25 lb               100 lb
        Power Supply Size:    7.25" (W) x    7.25" (W) x            13" (W) x
                              3.72" (H) x    3.72" (H) x             6" (H) x
                              9.88" (D)      9.88" (D)              18" (D)
        Power Supply Weight:     7.5 lb        7.5 lb                30 lb


    1. The specifications for the SP-120 were copied from an original user manual. However, it did not list the tube operating voltage or current, so these values were sort of, well, guessed. :) Several other exciters may be used with the SP-120 including the SP-247 and SP-249.

    2. Some versions of the SP-124 (possibly those without the 'A' or 'B' suffix) may use an SP-253A exciter instead of the SP-255. These models require a mating boost/start module in laser head. See the section: Spectra-Physics Model 253A Exciter (SP-253A). The SP-122 laser, a short version of the SP-124 (actually shorter than the SP-120 but construction is like the SP-124), may have also used the SP-253A exciter.

      The 1974 brochure for the SP-124A lists 611.8 nm (orange) as an optional wavelength, power not specificed. The 594.1 nm (yellow, 11 mW) and 543.5 nm (green, 5 mW) wavelengths were also mentioned in a paper but although mirror sets for yellow at least were available, it's not known if they were from SP or an official SP product. The green may have required changes to gas pressure/fill ratio and operating current as well.

    Actual power from these lasers may be much more than their ratings would indicate, especially when new: greater than 35 mW for the SP-124B and up to 200 mW (!!) for the SP-125A with optimal mirrors, 150 mW with a tuning prism. (However, I don't know how likely such 'hot' samples, especially of the SP-125A, really were.)

    There is also a model 127 (OEM versions: SP-107 and SP-907) with the following partial specifications (632.8 nm). Beam diameter: 1.25 mm, divergence 0.66 mrad, length 38.75", height and width: about 4", power requirements: 5 kV, 11.5 mA, starting voltage: 12 kV + 6 kV pulse. This appears to be the only large-frame Spectra-Physics HeNe laser in current production. See the next section.

    Mirror sets for green (543.5 nm), yellow (594.1 nm), and orange (611.9 nm) were available for the longer lasers. (The SP-120 and SP-122 may be too short for the low gain green line.) There were also tunable versions of the SP-125 and possibly others. The SP-116 was a tunable version of the RF excited SP-115. These used a Littrow prism in place of the HR mirror.

    See the following sections for more information on these Spectra-Physics lasers.

    SP-107B HeNe Laser Specifications

    The SP-107 (and the apparently similar SP-907) is the same tube and resonator as is inside the SP-127 and is intended for OEM applications. As far as I know, the SP-107/127 is the only large-frame SP laser still in current production. Newer versions have a hard-seal tube with optically contacted Brewster windows and thus should not have the problems of the older SP lasers that go bad from non-use. Thus, if you're looking for a high power, high quality, HeNe laser that can be transported by one person and won't decay on the shelf, this is the one to get! I've seen like-new samples of these go for much less than $1,000 on eBay (about 1/5th the new price) and under $100 in at least partially working (and possibly restorable) condition.

    Even without powering up the laser there are two things that can be inspected to get a rough idea of the tube's health (beyond the overall condition and that it isn't in a million pieces):

    1. Getter: Make sure it doesn't have the "white cloud of death" appearance. The getter spot on these tubes is at the end of the cathode bulb where the negative lead attaches. The getter electrode - one or more round or rectangular rings - should be visible opposite the getter spot. A good getter will have a dark or silver metallic appearance. If it's milky white, brown, or red, then the tube is probably close to dead if not totally dead. A clear getter may or may not be bad - it could either mean the getter was never fired, or that a material was used that is clear rather than metallic, or that becomes clear when it combines with those bad gas molecules. Note that there should be NO metallic deposits anywhere else in the tube, particularly on the glass opposite the other end of the cathode can. That would be an indication of sputtering and an end-of-life tube.

    2. Brown crud in bore: Look for deposits of brown stuff inside the bore in the vicinity of the magnet poles. High mileage tubes like this will always have some. The brown stuff alone doesn't imply anything about the output power but is an indication that the laser has already seen a hard life and is less likely to be as lively as you'd like.

    The actual plasma tube in these is the SP-082 with various -dash numbers after probably related to the actual output power. I believe higher -dash numbers mean a higher output power tube (at least when new). These laser heads may sometimes be listed based on the tube number but they are the same thing since you really can't buy a tube by itself unless someone was bored and decided to totally disassemble one!

    The SP-107/907 resonator is over 38 inches long and of the "Stabilite" design similar to that of the SP-122 and SP-124 but the mirror mounts differ. There is an internal L-shaped structure and outer thinner metal skin. There are two versions, differing the design of their mirror mounts:

    In addition to mirror alignment, there are a pair of bore centering brackets about 1/2 and 3/4 of the way relative to the cathode-end of the laser. These have an effect on both output power and beam shape. Carefully tweaking for maximum output power should done in conjunction with mirror alignment.

    The bare resonators have no beam centering adjustments and I don't see any on the packaged SP-127.

    The tube has a side-mounted cathode chamber like other SP lasers but it is quite oversize - about twice the typical diameter. The ballast resistors (2 at the anode-end, 1 at the cathode-end, all 27K ohms) are mounted externally in glass tubes sealed with rubber and heat-shrink tubing. The power supply connector has 3 pins - cathode, anode, and Earth ground. But note that this pinout is not the same as on the physically similar connector on Siemens/LASOS lasers. Thus, a Spectra-Physics power supply cannot be used on a Siemens/LASOS laser or vice-versa without modification or bad things will happen to the laser head and/or power supply. Check the power supply and laser head wiring to be sure they are compatible if not originally mated!

    IR suppression magnets are placed at every available location on two sides of the bore. Thin rubber boots seal the space between the Brewster windows and mirrors but these can be pushed back to permit cleaning of the windows and mirrors in-place (barely and not recommended unless the resonator has been previously disassembled as the optics stay quite clean). Some of these lasers include a metal cover and electrical heaters to decrease the warmup time required to achieve rated power and stability. CAUTION: The part of the rubber boots surrounding the tube are easily torn if the boots are removed since they tend to stick to the tube.

    Depending on specific model, the SP-107/127/907 has a minimum output power of 25 or 35 mW but may do much more when new. The following is from a Spectra-Physics datasheet. Only the specs for the red version are shown but any of the other HeNe lasing wavelengths (except possibly 3.391 nm which may require a wider bore tube and removal of the IR suppression magnets) should be possible by substituting appropriate optics. A yellow or green version would be nice. :)

     Spectra-Physics Laser:        SP-107B
        Wavelength (nm):           632.8
        Minimum Power (mW):        25 or 35
        Beam Diameter (mm):        1.25
        Beam divergence (mR):      0.66
        Transverse Mode:           TEM00
        Degree of Polarization:    500:1
        Angle of Polarization:     Horizontal (+/-5 Degrees)
        Resonator Configuration:   Long Radius
        Beam Waist Location:       Outer surface of output mirror
        Resonator Length (cm):     95
        Longitudinal Mode Spacing: 161 MHz
        Type:                      Hard-seal (later versions), cathode in side-arm
        Operating Voltage:         5 (+/- 0.4) kV, 11.5 (+/- 0.5) mA
        Starting Voltage:          ~15 kV
        Lifetime:                  Greater than 20,000 hours
        Beam Amplitude Noise:      <1% RMS
        Beam Amplitude Ripple:     <1% RMS
        Warmup Time:               20 Minutes (95% power)
        Operating Temperature:     10 to 50 °C
        Operating Humidity:        5-90% non-condensing
        Power Supply:              SP-207A (110/220 VAC +/- 10%)
                                   SP-207A-1 (100/200 VAC +/- 10%)
                                   SP-207B (90-130 VAC or 180-260 VAC)
        Laser Head Size:           3.7" (W) x 3.7" (H) x 38.75" (L)
        Laser Head Weight:         23 lb
        Power Supply Size:         2.4" (W) x 1.4" (H) x 10" (L)
        Power Supply Weight:       3 lb

    Complete specifications for the SP-107B can be found at Vintage Lasers and Accessories Brochures.

    It is possible to run these lasers on the smaller linear SP-255 exciter but starting may be erratic or not work at all (at least for non-pristine tubes) unless the AC line voltage is increased to 125 VAC for starting (it can then be backed off somewhat while operating). A bleeder resistor of 200M ohms or so rated for 15 kV can be installed to discharge the power supply capacitors after shutdown as starting of the longer SP-107/127/907 tube apparently requires the voltage to rise from close to 0 V to start reliably on the SP-255's whimpy starter. An alternative and better solution is to add a passive boost circuit to the starting multiplier of the SP-255. This can be in an external pod requiring no modifications to the exciter itself. Note that the added starting voltage may not be needed for LGK-7676, SP-907/107/127, and similar size lasers with lower mileage tubes. If your laser starts reliably, don't worry about it. Otherwise, see the section: Enhancements to SP-255.) Make sure the laser head frame is securely connected to the power supply (and earth) ground. Since the operating voltage and current are well within the capabilities of the SP-255, the laser and power supply should both be happy once started (though the AC line voltage may still need to be slightly above 115 VAC to minimize drop out/restarts if there are line dips, expecially for a high mileage tube which may have increased operating voltage). Changing the jumpers to use one of the lower line voltage taps on the SP-255's power transformer would probably help in a marginal case (low line voltage, or a laser with a higher HeNe tube voltage or higher ballast resistance) where regulation can't be maintained with adequate current without using a Variac to boost line voltage.

    Description of the SP-115 Laser Head

    This is one of Spectra-Physics' first commercial HeNe lasers, probably from the mid-60s. It is RF (rather than DC) excited - basically a radio transmitter attached to a neon sign. :) Some photos of the laser and exciter can be found in the Laser Equipment Gallery (Version 1.88 or higher) under "Spectra-Physics Helium-Neon Lasers".

    The laser tube is about 20 inches long with separate bore and gas chambers side-by-side. The bore uses rather thin glass tubing and is a very large diameter for a HeNe laser - about 3 to 4 mm ID - consistent with early HeNe laser technology. The laser head is nicely mounted with lots of fine machined hardware. It has no IR suppression magnets. There are two RF connectors on the side for the Spectra-Physics model 200 RF-type power supply. One of the connectors is for the actual RF signal; the other is for starting. There is an impedance matching network located under the "tube deck". This consists of a series LC circuit (C is adjustable for peaking the tuning) between the RF input and case with the output taken from the junction of the L and C. The RF drives a dozen or so electrodes with alternating polarities in close proximity to the tube bore. The start connection goes to the input of a potted transformer which produces a several kV pulse when the "Start button" on the exciter is pressed. The starting pulse goes to a separate small electrode clamped near the center of the tube bore.

    The laser has external adjustable mirrors mounted on the very solid precision milled black anodized aluminum box support structure. Both mirrors have screw adjustments for coarse alignment not accessible from outside the case without removing the end-plates. The front mirror also has external fine adjustments in X and Y via two precision Lufkin micrometers and the rear mirror is mounted on a precision slide with an external micrometer adjustment for mirror separation (try to find that on any modern laser!). I don't know if the intent of this axial adjustment (over 1/2" of travel) was to fine tune the longitudinal or transverse modes or both. Since the resonator frame would experience little if any heating (and expansion), the micrometer could be used to center a longitudinal mode and maximize output for this low gain laser. In addition, the larger movement could possibly be used to select a particular transverse mode pattern, though actually achieving TEM00 operation in such a wide bore laser might not be possible.

    The power supply for the SP-115 is a high quality 15 to 25 watt 40.68 MHz RF source consisting of a crystal controlled oscillator and a power amplifier using a 4x150 tube. All active elements are tubes, of course, but out of character for the era, the oscillator and driver are built on a printed circuit board. Overall, the system looks like something straight out of the ARRL Handbook (which is probably where the design came from!).

    Not surprisingly, on the sample I have, the tube has leaked and only produces a weak purple glow when the RF is turned on. The getter has the "white cloud of death" syndrome and without an aluminum can cathode, there is no possibility of getter action anywhere else. (Not that a tube this far gone would have any chance of revival in any case. The tube would make an ideal candidate for refilling since the vacuum could be breeched by cutting the exhaust nipples at either end of the gas ballast without contaminating the Brewster windows.) The SP-200 does do a nice job of lighting 20 W fluorescent lamps and most likely screwing up radio reception in the neighborhood. :)

    There was also a Spectra-Physics model 116 laser which appears similar but has a tuning prism to enable wavelength selection. It goes without saying that a working sample of an SP-116 would be a real prize. :)

    Description of the SP-120 Laser Head

    The SP-120 is the same width and height as the SP-124, but just over half its length. Construction of the plasma tube is generally similar but it is shorter and there are fewer IR suppression magnets. However, the frame and mirror mounts differ. (The SP-122 is actually closer to a baby version of the SP-124 with virtually identical construction to that laser but is slightly shorter than the SP-120.)

    Photos of a SP-120 laser head and the SP-120 resonator and tube can be found in the Laser Equipment Gallery (version 1.85 or higher) under "Spectra-Physics Helium-Neon Lasers". One thing the photos don't show because it had probably been removed, is the "starter helper" electrode, clamped to the bore near the side-arm. This is connected to the positive (anode) supply via a 100 pF HV capacitor. So, the initial rise in voltage produces a pulse on that electrode which helps to ionize the gas. Given the whimpy starter of the SP-256, it probably is worthwhile insurance. But I can understand why it was removed - getting the tube out for replacement or Brewster window cleaning is very difficult with that assembly in place.

    The complete user manual for the SP-120 laser with SP-256 exciter can be found at Spectra-Physics Model 120 Laser with 256 Exciter Operation Manual. On the one sample of the SP-256 exciter that I've seen, the current was set for 7.2 mA. However, I don't know if this is the default optimum setting for the SP-120 laser or whether it had been tweaked. (The specs list 7 mA at 3.7 kV. But less than 6 mA will work on a healthy tube.)

    There is also an SP-120S. The "S" stands for "Shutter" and indeed, these have a plastic shutter lever to block the beam. They also have really cheapo plastic end-covers which block access to the screws and thus make it impossible to do any adjustment without removing them entirely. Perhaps that's a good thing. :)

    There are also IR versions indicated by additional numbers after the model: A 120-1 is 1,152 nm and a 120-2 is 1,523 nm, output power not known but probably not much. So, if you obtained an SP-120 on eBay that has a tube with a nice shiny getter and good discharge color but no beam, check the dash number! Some versions might have a black VIS-blocking filter in front of the output mirror, so that would be another clue. It's hard to pass red light through a black filter. :)

    The resonator uses three-screw adjustable mirror mounts for coarse alignment (tweaking these is a true pain!). Fine alignment is done via a pair of recessed hex screw adjustments at each end which actually shifts the tube position at each end without affecting the mirror alignment. Each screw moves the end of the tube diagonally ( \ , / ) along a line intersecting the center of the mirror. So, use opposing pairs to walk the alignment. The adjustment screws are accessible via a pair of holes visible once the circular bezel/optics mount is unscrewed. It is possible to replace the tube in about 5 minutes without requiring major mirror re-alignment (no need to touch the coarse adjustments, only the tube centering).

    The resonator is constructed from 3 pieces of thick very nicely machined aluminum stock - an L-channel and 2 end-plates bolted together to form a very rigid structure. It is supported at only three points and essentially floats inside the outer case (the "Stabilite" name as discussed for the SP-124 laser, below) which isolates the resonator from external stress (or so it is claimed). So, the clunking you hear when changing the position of the laser head is normal.

    CAUTION: Unless the tube has been removed, there should be no need to clean the optics. Since there is no way to clean the Brewster windows with the tube in place and no way to clean the mirrors without removing them, it is a royal pain to be avoided. Remove, clean, install, test and tweak, repeat until output power comes back to what it was before attempting this stunt. :)

    Description of the SP-122 Laser Head

    The SP-122 wasn't nearly as common as the SP-120 or SP-124 based on the number of samples I've seen anywhere (exactly 1, which which I found on eBay), but is interesting in that the resonator is identical in every respect to an SP-124 except it is about 1/2 as long. The "Stabilite" frame, mirror mounts, and end-plate adjustments are the same, but there are fewer magnets. The tube is a bit shorter than the SP-120 tube and may have a slightly narrower bore but is otherwise identical. This was no doubt a more expensive laser to manufacture than the SP-120 so it probably never was very popular. The only obvious feature lacking in the simpler and probably slightly higher power SP-120 is the adjustable beam position. And, how much would anyone pay for that?

    The one I obtained also used the strange SP-253A exciter - a switchmode power supply which sends medium voltage AC to a voltage multiplier/boost module in the laser head. See the end of the next section for more on this. There is also an SP-123 which appears similar but with an internal power supply. (Not sure why the large difrerence in output power in the table, above, though. Another reference to these lasers also shows a large difference of 3 and 7 mW for the SP-122 and SP-123, respectively.)

    Really old SP-122s may have used a hot filament tube as I've acquired two "new" samples labeled "122T" and about the right dimensions. Spectra-Physics 122T HeNe Laser Tube with Hot Filament shows a pair of views of one of these. It was in a sealed plastic envelope with a punch card (!!) indicating that it was from SP stock in 1968! Closeup of SP-122T Filament/Getter Assembly shows the filament with the getter ring attached to one of the mounting posts. The filament requires several amps at 1 or 2 V. Both these tubes had leaked and the discharge color with the filament powered orange-hot was pink/purple. Interestingly, if the filament current was turned off, the discharge became a much more normal salmon color, but the dropout current rose so high that it would not stay lit at any reasonable current. If the current was simply reduced to the point where the filament was barely warm, the discharge could be maintained at 5 or 6 mA and the color wasn't too bad. Interestingly, the sustaining voltage actually was lower with reduced filament power! I can only guess that the hot filament was releasing gas contaminants that changed the discharge color and raised the discharge voltage. In fact, the discharge seemed to not be going to the filament at all, but to the getter and support posts as a noticeable silvery coating due to sputtering started appearing on the glass surrounding them. After this, the discharge color even with the filament running hot seemed to be a bit closer to normal, but was tending more toward orange with low filament power. This might mean that helium was being trapped faster than neon. Unfortunately, none of this is likely to help cure these tubes.

    Description of the SP-124 Laser Head

    I obtained an SP-124 laser in 'as-is' condition for nothing, so I won't complain. The HeNe tube is gasy so it makes a nice wall hanging at this point but has its uses in enhancing this section at least. :) A photo of a SP-124A laser head and SP-255 exciter can be found in the Laser Equipment Gallery (Version 1.43 or higher) under "Spectra-Physics Helium-Neon Lasers".

    The SP-124 laser head is a box about 76 mm (H) x 76 mm (W) x 813 mm (L) (3" x 3" x 32"), nicely massive for its size. There are threaded beam apertures at both ends though the HR is backed by a solid aluminum plate so I don't think much light would ever get through that even if there was leakage through the mirror!

    This is one of SP's "Stabilite" series lasers. This approach to frequency stabilization is based on a mounting system that employs optimally located pivots in an attempt to minimize the coupling of gravitational and vibrational torques and other distorting forces to the resonator cavity itself. In the SP-124, most of the mass of the laser head is in such an optimally mounted heavy solid frame with roughly an L cross section that runs nearly the full distance between the mirror mounts and attached to each of them at three points.

    Adjustments accessible externally at each end of the laser allow the beam alignment (X and Y) to be tweaked very accurately by moving the entire optics chassis relative to the head mounting studs (which accept 6-32 screws or rubber feet). The adjustment scheme is sort of interesting (to me, at least): A V-shaped block (bolted to the rosonator and case) sits between a pair of wedges (part of the mounting stud assembly) that can be moved up and down via a pair of screws (call them A and B) and retained in position by a stiff spring. Rotating both A and B equally in the same direction moves the beam in Y; rotating A and B equally in opposite directions moves it in X. The setting may then be locked.

    The external mirror HeNe tube is clamped in rubber mounts at its ends and also stabilized at the 1/3 and 2/3 (approximately) positions. Metal bellows join the tube mount brackets to the mirror mounts and, in conjunction with the rubber seals, prevent dust and dirt from getting on the inside surfaces of the mirrors and on the Brewster windows. The mirror mounts have hex head bolts for adjustments with set screws to prevent their settings from changing over time. An additional metal bellows joins the OC to the treaded output aperture.

    The HeNe tube itself is a bare capillary about 7 mm OD with a 1.1 mm ID (no, I didn't measure it - just trust the specs!). The cathode, getter assembly, and HeNe gas reservoir is in a side-arm at the output-end of the laser bent to run parallel to the bore. It is about 32 mm x 178 mm (1-1/4" x 7") with the 'can' electrode nearly filling the glass envelope. The anode is (naturally) at the other end of the bore along with the three 9.8K ohm (5 W at least) ballast resistors also in a parallel side-arm inside the gas envelope as apparently is the case with other Spectra-Physics lasers of this era. Interesting, they are just ordinary Ohmite power resistors. I guess this approach does reduce problems with high voltage insulation breakdown but it would be a shame if the laser went bad because a $.50 resistor failed and could not be easily replaced! The total value of about 30K ohms would seem to be rather low but might have been selected to match the needs of the SP-253A exciter (see below) or additional external ballast resistors may be required. The SP-124B version of this laser may use a more normal 81K ballast resistance.

    A series of relatively weak (e.g., refrigerator note holder strength) ceramic magnets 14 mm (W) x 22 mm (L) x 6 mm (H) (9/16" x 7/8" x 5/16") are mounted in close proximity under (15 magnets) and on one side (24 magnets) all along the length of the bore wherever they fit. (See the section: Magnets in High Power or Precision HeNe Laser Heads for an explanation of their purpose.) The approximate arrangement is shown below. I may have the poles backwards (which is of course irrelevant). A cheap pocket compass came in handy to determine the pole configuration!: The magnets were positioned with their broad faces about 2 mm from the bore.

        Magnets N_S_N_S_N_S_N_S_N_S   S_N_S_N_S_N_S_N   N_S_N_S_N_S_N_S_N
        on side |_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|   |_|_|_|_|_|_|_|   |_|_|_|_|_|_|_|_|
       HR end ============================================================= OC end
      of bore ------------------------------------------------------------- of bore
        Magnets N_S_N S_N_S N_S N_S   S_N S_N S_N S_N     S_N S_N_S N_S_N
        below   |_|_| |_|_| |_| |_|   |_| |_| |_| |_|     |_| |_|_| |_|_|
               N_S_N                               +-----+-----+
        Where: |_|_| = 2 adjacent ceramic magnets: |N   S|S   N|
    I assume that the only reason there aren't 24 magnets below the tube is that the holes in the Stabilite frame got in the way.

    Apparently, there must have been a couple of power supply options for the SP-124. Most of these lasers appear to use the Spectra-Physics Model 255 Exciter (SP-255). This is a traditional HeNe power supply providing operating and start voltage through a high voltage BNC connector. However, the laser I have apparently is supposed to use an SP-253A Exciter, a model for which no one (including Spectra-Physics) seems to have any information or even acknowledge exists though I have since found out that the SP-122 laser, a model slightly shorter than the SP-120 but built more along the lines of an SP-124, may have also used the SP-253A (possibly a slightly different version or at least different jumper options). For more information on what I have found out so far about the exciter, see the section: Spectra-Physics Model 253A Exciter (SP-253A).

    Unfortunately, on the system I obtained, the boost/start module (which is what I assume was supposed to be inside the head to attach to the exciter) had been ripped out with the cable just chopped off and thus I can't even determine what was there originally. So, I removed the multiconductor cable and replaced it with a HV coax (terminated with a standard Alden connector) and wired it directly to the tube anode terminal and chassis ground (recall that the ballast resistors are inside the tube. Yes, I know, the 30K ballast resistance may be too low for use with the SP-255!)

    Using my SP-255 to power the head, I get a nice pink glow in the bore (more red than orange indicating a rise in pressure from slow leakage over the years) but as expected, no coherent light. The low ballast resistance is fine as far as maintaining a stable discharge (I don't know if this would still be the case if the gas pressure in the tube were correct). Maybe someday in the far distant future after that hot place freezes over AND those pigs start flying, I will get around to regassing the tube! :)

    Description of the SP-125 Laser Head

    This is definitely a LARGE-frame HeNe laser by weight alone: roughly 45 kg (100 pounds) for the head alone! And, it is around 2 meters (over 6 feet) long! Like its smaller cousin, the SP-124, there are models for normal red (632.8 nm) and two IR lines (1152.3 nm and 3391.3 nm). NEC made one almost as large (GLG5800, over 5-1/2 feet long) and Jodon has high power HeNe lasers but the SP-125 is still the largest production HeNe laser I've found.

    The SP-125A tube has a common cathode in the middle of the tube with two anodes, one at each end. The dual discharges are driven from its SP-261A Exciter which provides 6 kV at up to 35 mA. The SP-250 Exciter is also compatible with this laser.

    With a bit of rewiring of the laser head, one could feed the anodes separately reducing the individual current requirements so that a pair of power supplies similar to the SP-255 could be used. With this sort of scheme, it should also be possible to selectively power only one of the discharge paths for reduced beam output if desired. Yes, I know, why would you ever want *less* power? :)

    Two sets of ballast resistors in the laser head totaling 87K ohms (75K+12K) provide the operating voltage to each of the anodes of the dual discharge tube. They are located between the anodes and chassis ground (The SP-261A's output is negative with respect to ground. Thus, ground is the positive supply voltage). The HeNe tube's single cathode is attached directly to the negative output of the SP-261A.

    The starter operates in a manner similar to that of the method of triggering the xenon flashlamp in a typical electronic flash unit or solid state laser power supply - by pulsing an external electrode in close proximity to the HeNe tube bore. The whole tube is supported by metal rods which are insulated from the cavity structure by nylon disks. One of the rods is the trigger electrode. The starter runs off a voltage from the 75K/12K ohm taps of both ballast resistors ORed together so that it repeatedly generates a trigger pulse until BOTH discharges have been successfully initiated.

    The SP-261A also has a low power RF output (this isn't the same as the RF power supply option mentioned below) which drives a pair of plates in proximity to the HeNe tube. The RF is supposed to stabilize the laser power (presumably by some sort of discharge dithering process). However, the RF apparently also results in interference with local radio stations. :(

    An RF power supply option is/was also available. (Possibly some version of the SP-200 though the specs don't quite match for the one I have. See the section: Spectra-Physics Model 200 Exciter (SP-200).) This would replace theSP-261A and starter entirely by driving the tube directly with radio frequency energy - 15 W at 46 MHz. Note the greatly reduced power to the tube compared to the 150 to 210 W for the DC discharge! The drive is applied via coax from a BNC connector on the back of the laser to a resonant circuit about midway in the laser head. The two phases of the output of the resonant circuit connect to a pair of 0.1 inch diameter bars running the length of the tube about 0.6 inches from the centerline suspended from insulators.

    Unfortunately, many SP-125s that appear as surplus are not good for more than long boat anchors (or as a parts unit for salvage of the optics and frame). Unless the tube has been replaced relatively recently, being soft-seal, it has likely leaked to the point at which the getter can no longer clean up the contamination. Refilling is the only option and that cost would make what you paid for the laser look like pocket change. And, refilling a HeNe tube is generally not a realistic basement activity. So, if you come across an SP-125 at a low price, unless it is guaranteed to lase, buyer beware. An SP-125 sold "as-is" almost certainly means the seller couldn't get it to work (not that everything possible wasn't tried) since they likely know it is worth 10 times as much in operating condition!

    Also see the section: SP-120, 124, and 125 HeNe Laser Specifications and Spectra-Physics Model 261A Exciter (SP-261A).

    (From: Marco Lauschmann (

    The SP125A is absolutely beautiful with much chrome and a metallic blue cover! It is nearly 2 meters long and looks like an older large-frame argon ion laser. A Spectra-Physica scientist noticed that this device will deliver twice the rated power with no problems. Others have claimed as much as 200 mW for the red (632.8 nm) model!

    Description of the SP-127 Laser

    The SP-127 used to be the flagship large-frame external mirror laser of the Spectra-Physics HeNe laser product line. With a spec'd output power of 25 or 35 mW (new ones did much more), their patented "Stabilite" resonator construction, and a hard-seal plasma tube, it was the laser of choice for holography and similar demanding applications. They used to be sold direct from SP as well as through Edmund Industrial Optics, and elsewhere. Many photos of the SP-127 can be found in the Laser Equipment Gallery under "Spectra-Physics Helium-Neon Lasers".

    The tube assembly used in the SP-127 is the same as the SP-107B described above, with the side-arm plasma tube itself typically labelled "082-2 (25 mW), 082-3 (35 mW), or 082- (either). It has optically contacted Brewster windows rather than Epoxy seals, so it should have essentially unlimited shelf life. A brick power supply provides the required 11 to 12 mA at 5 kV, switchable between 115/230 VAC. The case is similar to those used for SP's ion lasers except that the SP-127 has slots on top to view the cheery glow of the bore discharge. :) Mirrors are relatively easily removable and replaceable without requiring major realignment, and swappable to change wavelengths. I'm not sure of all the wavelengths besides red (632.8 nm) that were supported by Spectra-Physics, but orange (604.6 nm and 611.9 nm), yellow (594.1 nm), and the near-IR lines (1,152 nm and 1,523 nm) would likely be possible without also replacing the tube. However, green (543.5 nm) might require a different gas-fill and the mid-IR line (3,391 nm) might require a larger bore to get any sort of reasonable power.

    Unfortunately, SP has stopped manufacturing the SP-127 and sold off their parts inventory to Cambridge Lasers Laboratories, Inc., who will still rebuild these (and other SP HeNe lasers) - for a price. :)

    The only readily available HeNe lasers with similar output power now are the internal mirror Melles Griot 05-LHR/P-927/928. The newer versions of these are traditional HeNe cylindrical laser heads mounted in a rectangular case, presumably for added thermal stability - or so they look simlar to the SP-127!

    Description of the SP-130 Laser

    This is probably one of the earliest self contained portable HeNe lasers ever sold. (The original "Model 130 Gas Laser Operation and Maintenance Manual" I have has diagrams date 1965 and 1966). It even has a genuine leather carrying handle. :) And U.S. Patent #D202710: Gas Laser (drawings only), covers the design of the case (including the leather carrying handle!). The overall construction is superb using precision machined anodized aluminum for the main structure as well as the covers - built along the lines of a Sherman Tank. The laser is cute - about 13.5"(L) x 4"(W) x 5"(H) and heavy for its size - about 11 pounds. The SP-130B uses a HeNe tube with Brewster windows and external mirrors all in a self contained box. Some photos can be found in the Laser Equipment Gallery under "Spectra-Physics Helium-Neon Lasers".

    The tube inside the lasers in the photos is the typical small Spectra-Physics side-arm type (like those in the SP-155 and other similar lasers also shown on the Web page above) but with Brewster windows instead of mirrors. However, earlier versions may look a bit different with a side-arm for the anode as well and really early versions (SP-130, no B) actually used a heated filament for the cathode (though for some reason, the schematic of the SP130 with the heated filament is dated slightly later than the schematic of the SP130B with the cold cathode design).

    Based on the length of the tube, I would have expected its output power to be in the 2 to 5 mW range. However, from the specifications in the manual, it turns out to be only 0.75 mW when used with the hemispherical mirror configuration (planar and 30 cm radius of curvature), but capable of a TEM00 beam despite its wide bore (2.5 mm). With a confocal configuration using a pair of 30 cm mirrors, the beam is multimode (non-TEM00) and output power may be as much as 1.5 mW.

    When I obtained the first of these lasers (the one in the top two photos), the tube actually still lit up but there was no output beam. At first I thought it might even have a chance of working since the discharge color looked sort of reasonable, though somewhat less intense than I would have expected. Fiddling with the optics didn't yield any positive results. And then, when I wasn't looking, the discharge went out! As best I can tell, a crack must have opened somewhere in the tube and it is now at much higher pressure or up to air - bummer! I can find no visible damage or any evidence of this except that it won't start even on a much larger HeNe power supply and shows no signs of a glow from an RF source. So far, the getter hasn't changed color.

    I don't think this laser was ever really alive - the tube was probably gasy or helium deficient or something but I still can't explain what happened. The only place it could have leaked that I can't see is under the anode connection which is kind of potted but there shouldn't have been any heat there to cause such a problem.

    And to compound my disappointment, I dinged the OC removing the tube. Enough of it may be left to still work but the optics appear to be soft-coated as the AR coating came off totally by just barely touching it. However, that still hurts. Sometimes, you just have one of those days. :(

    As it turned out, nothing I had done affected the tube. The gas fill was messed up and It was simply very hard to start. A few years later, a major laser service company regased the tube in exchange for a dead large frame argon ion laser (or maybe two of them). After swapping in good mirrors from another SP-130, as of 2010, it is happily lasing at about 0.5 mW. I sent it to my friend in Florida who provided the trade lasers, where it can bask in the Sunshine and will be and well cared for. :) This output power is slightly below spec but it was a chop and pump job so not only was the getter not replaced, but the interior of the tube was not even cleaned. So, 0.5 mW is quite respectable. And, it's even possible that cleaning of the mirrors and better cleaning of the Brewster windows would result in significantly more power. But my motto for lasers such as these is "do no harm". :)

    The laser in the third photo was DOA with an up-to-air tube, seriously damaged mirrors (coatings mostly gone), and evidence of prior dissection attempts (cut wires, etc.). The tube in that one is probably one of the earliest non-heated filament types with a small cathode and separate side-arm for the anode.

    However, I have since obtained a third SP-130B which originally had a red/blue discharge. But while running for a few hours, the color gradually changed to a mostly correct white-ish red-orange. And, with an optics cleaning and alignment, this SP-130B actually lases. The output power is not up to spec - about 0.25 mW at maximum current (it's rated at 0.75 mW) - but that's still a bit amazing considering its age. See the section: Reviving a Spectra-Physics Model 130B Antique Laser for details. I've had it for over 5 years now (since 2000) and it's output hasn't changed noticeably. I run it for a few seconds almost daily just to let it know that it's loved and that seems to keep it happy.

    The internal power supply accounts for much of the weight and most of the height of the box and consists of:

    There is no actual starter - the open circuit voltage of the power supply is about 5,000 VDC but drops to around 1,500 VDC under load.

    For more info and schematics, see the section: Spectra-Physics Model 130 HeNe Laser Power Supply (SP-130).

    Now, the question becomes: Do I leave the dead ones intact as examples of antique lasers or replace their tube and optics with modern 3 mW barcode scanner tubes (about the largest that would fit height-wise, a 1 inch diameter tube) to have working lasers? I guess there's nothing special about 3 mW HeNe lasers so leaving them intact would be the best option. And, it would be a shame to only have 3 mW when the power supply is easily capable of driving at least a 5 mW tube. In order to do a test with an SP098-2 barcode scanner tube (actual output: 2.8 mW), I had to add 500K ohms of ballast resistance in addition to what is built into the power supply to get the current low enough so the adjustment would include the optimum current setting. (I can hear the antique connoisseurs breathing a collective sigh of relief!) Who knows, maybe someone will drop replacement tubes and mirrors in my lap someday! Hint, hint. :)

    There is also an SP-130C laser which is virtually identical in construction and function, except for the lack of an external current adjust pot.

    Description of the SP-131 Laser

    The seemingly much less common SP-131 appears to be optically similar to the SP-130 but utilizes a separate laser head and exciter. Two exciters were available. The SP-251 was probably similar to the self-contained power supply in the SP-130 while the SP-252 added a current meter, active regulation, and modulation capability. More information on the SP-131, SP-251, and SP-252 can be found at Vintage Lasers and Accessories Brochures.

    I acquired a few old Spectra-Physics tubes in various stages of assembly (none work). Spectra-Physics 131 HeNe Laser Tube using Neon Sign Electrode Cathode shows one mostly complete sample. (It's missing the Brewster windows though that's hard to see.) I don't know if the SP-131 tube or a similar SP-130 tube were ever put into production. This is the first time I've seen SP tubes with neon sign electrodes rather than hot filaments or aluminum cathodes.

    Description of the SP-155 Laser

    The Spectra-Physics model 155 is a basic, bare bones, low power, low cost self contained HeNe laser probably used in countless classrooms to introduce uncountable bored students to geometric optics. :) Its rated power is 0.5 mW (Class II, 0.95 mW max) but when new probably approaches the safety limit (there is an adjustable glass plate neutral density filter inside to attenuate the beam if necessary) - a "hot" SP-155 tube might produce 1.25 mW or more.

    Photos of a typical SP-155 can be found in the Laser Equipment Gallery under "Spectra-Physics Helium-Neon Lasers".

    The HeNe laser tube is the classic Spectra-Physics side-arm design but with the anode electrode mounted about halfway along the length of the bore. The same tube with the anode mounted at the end would produce around 4 to 5 mW. In fact, the Spectra-Physics 157 (3 mW) and 159 (4 mW) lasers are virtually identical except for the tube's anode location and the use of a larger power supply. (The SP-156 may be similar but I haven't seen one to confirm.)

    The power supply for the SP-155 is a basic transformer/doubler/multiplier design with a single transistor current regulator. The power supply on later versions of the SP-157 and SP-159 lasers may be a potted brick instead of a discrete PCB but all of the SP-155 lasers appear to retain the older quaint power supply design. :)

    Note that other manufacturers sell (or have sold) lasers identical in appearance to the SP-155. For example, there is a Uniphase model 115ASL-1 and a Liconix L-388 (even though it is made by Uniphase). However, these use a hard-seal Uniphase barcode scanner HeNe tube (similar to a model 098 with a tiny collimating lens attached to its OC to reduce divergence) rather than the fancy Spectra-Physics side-arm tube we know and love. But their power supplies are similar or identical to that used in the SP-155. (There is also a Spectra-Physics model 155ASL which is physically identical to the Uniphase and Liconix lasers except for the name on the front. I assume it has the same construction though I haven't seen the insides of one up close and personal.)

    Also see the section: Spectra-Physics Model 155 HeNe Laser Power Supply (SP-155).

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    Spectral HeNe Lasers

    Spectral is an Italian company which manufactures high power HeNe lasers, CO2 lasers, and power supplies, among others. Their HeNe lasers have rated output powers of up to 60 mW, but are all multi-spatial mode.

    Spectral RMM355 High Power Multimode HeNe Laser

    This is a medium length rectangular laser head with separate power supply box. The laser head and power supply each weigh about 4-1/2 pounds, so, the entire rig is very portable. Spectral is an Italian company which manufactured only the laser head and it does appear professionally built. But the power supply box that came with it is more along the lines of someone's science fair project. It's constructed safely, but shall we say, rough around the edges. In fact, while correcting some of its cosmetic flaws, I found that the front plate had been flipped around with the original markings covered, something to do with a battery charger. :) So, the power supply is not from Spectral.

    The RMM355 is multi-transverse mode laser, which in itself is a novelty. This sample has an output power of about 40 mW 8.3 mA. (Yes, that's 40 mW.) The beam is generally circular with what is basically a top-hat profile (more or less flat with ripples), has a divergence of about 2.7 mR, and is random polarized. The model number does include "R" and "MM". :) The RMM355 (which is an earlier model, not listed on the Spectral Web site) is rated at 35 mW minimum output power and typically does 40 to 44 mW after warmup. The current version is the RMM355L which is rated at 42 mW minimum at 10 mA, and typically does 48 mW after warmup. Spectral actually has an even larger model which has a minimum output power of 60 mW!!. Wow, darn, I want one! :)

    The laser head is a rectangular aluminum extrusion, capped at both ends with what look like black Plexiglas plates apparently attached with adhesive which has so far resisted my best efforts to remove them. The head is about 2-3/16x2-3/16x34-3/4 inches but the actual tube length is not known. There are no screws or mounting holes anywhere. However, based on the spec'd longitudinal mode spacing of 175 MHz, the tube in the RMM355L has a mirror spacing of about 33 inches - nearly the length of the laser head. I measured the operating voltage on the RMM355 and it is about 3,380 VDC, within the tolerance limits of the spec'd value for the RMM355L of 3,300 V, so the tube length is probably the same. The HeNe laser tube has internal mirrors and is probably of relatively conventional design, but with a wide bore. There is a simple hole in the output cap for the beam to pass (no shutter) and a hole in the rear plate for the Alden cable. I'm sure I could get more power by aligning the mirrors but it doesn't look like there is any easy non-destructive way of getting inside at either end. They seem to be glued all too well. What's the fun without tweakability! :)

    Thankfully, regardless of the looks of the power supply box, the actual power supply is a Laser Drive brick, 2900 V at 7.8 to 8.3 mA, adjustable. It was set all the way up on my sample. 40 mW at 8.3 mA isn't too shabby but I tested the laser head using an SP-255 on a Variac and the it produces about 43 mW at 10 mA and 44 mW at 10.5 mA. I have since acquired a power supply that is adjustable via an external pot and goes up to 12 mA (which is apparently acceptable for this laser, at least for a short while). With that, I can get 48 mW at 12 mA. :)

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    Uniphase HeNe Lasers

    Datasheets for current models may be found by going to the JDS Uniphase Web Site, then to "Commercial Lasers", "Products", and "HeNe Gas Lasers". The listings below include some older models as well.

    Except as noted, these are all cylindrical laser heads with lab-style power supplies. Note that the divergence values for multimode (non-TEM00) lasers, and even whether some are TEM00 or multimode, may not be correct due to errors in both the on-line and printed datasheets I've seen.

    I have two sets of specifications here. The first were mostly from the JDSU Web site as of 2006 but a few may be from other sources:

    Red (632.8 nm):

      Minimum  e/2             c/2L               Nominal   <------ Model ------->
      Output   Beam   Diver-   Mode    Operating   Tube     Laser   Power  
      Power    Diam   gence   Spacing   Voltage   Current   Head    Supply  System
       .5 mW  .48 mm 1.70 mR 1090 MHz   1.35 kV   4.0 mA    1108/P  1205    1308/P
       .8 mW  .48 mm 1.70 mR 1090 MHz   1.35 kV   4.0 mA    1107/P  1205    1307/P
      1.5 mW  .63 mm 1.30 mR  730 MHz   1.70 kV   4.9 mA    1101/P  1201    1301/P
      2.0 mW  .63 mm 1.30 mR  730 MHz   1.70 kV   4.9 mA    1103/P  1201    1303/P
      2.0 mW  .63 mm 1.30 mR  730 MHz   1.80 kV   6.5 mA    1122/P  1206    1322/P
      5.0 mW  .81 mm 1.00 mR  435 MHz   2.35 kV  6-6.5 mA   1125/P  1202    1325/P
      7.0 mW  .81 mm 1.00 mR  435 MHz   2.45 kV  6-6.5 mA   1137/P  1202    1337/P
      10 mW   .68 mm 1.30 mR  320 MHz   3.10 kV   6.5 mA    1135/P  1216    1335/P
      17 mW   .70 mm 1.16 mR  257 MHz   4.10 kV   6.5 mA    1144/P  1218    1344/P
      22 mW   .70 mm 1.16 mR  257 MHz   4.10 kV   6.5 mA    1145P   1218    1345P
      25 mW   .70 mm 1.16 mR  257 MHz   4.10 kV   6.5 mA    1145    1218    1345

    The models 1508/P and 1507/P are self-contained "Novette" lasers that run from DC wall adapters but have identical specifications to the 1308/P and 1307/P, respectively.

    Green (543.5 nm):

      Minimum  e/2             c/2L               Nominal   <------ Model ------->
      Output   Beam   Diver-   Mode    Operating   Tube     Laser   Power  
      Power    Diam   gence   Spacing   Voltage   Current   Head    Supply  System
      .25 mW  .70 mm  .98 mR  441 MHz   2.25 kV   5.5 mA    1652/P  1207    1352/P
      .50 mW  .70 mm  .98 mR  441 MHz   2.25 kV   5.5 mA    1653    1207    1353
      .50 mW  .80 mm  .86 mR  325 MHz   2.70 kV   5.0 mA    1673P   1208    1373P
      .75 mW  .70 mm  .98 mR  441 MHz   2.25 kV   5.5 mA    1654    1207    1354
     1.00 mW 2.50 mm ?.?? mR   NA-MM    2.25 kV   5.5 mA    1654M   1207    1354M
      .75 mW  .80 mm  .86 mR  325 MHz   2.70 kV   5.0 mA    1674P   1208    1374P
     1.00 mW  .80 mm  .86 mR  325 MHz   2.70 kV   5.0 mA    1675    1208    1375
     1.50 mW  .80 mm  .86 mR  325 MHz   2.70 kV   5.0 mA    1676    1208    1376
     1.60 mW 2.70 mm ?.?? mR  325 MHz   2.70 kV   5.0 mA    1676M   1208    1376M

    Yellow (594.1 nm):

      Minimum  e/2             c/2L               Nominal   <------ Model ------->
      Output   Beam   Diver-   Mode    Operating   Tube     Laser   Power
      Power    Diam   gence   Spacing   Voltage   Current   Head    Supply  System
     1.00 mW  .73 mm 1.00 mR   ?? MHz   2.25 kV   5.5 mA    1677    1207    1377
     1.50 mW 2.50 mm 1.00 mR   NA-MM    2.25 kV   5.5 mA    1678    1207    1378 

    Orange (611.9 nm):

      Minimum  e/2             c/2L               Nominal   <------ Model ------->
      Output   Beam   Diver-   Mode    Operating   Tube     Laser   Power
      Power    Diam   gence   Spacing   Voltage   Current   Head    Supply  System
     3.00 mW  .74 mm 1.10 mR   ?? MHz   2.25 kV   5.5 mA    1679    1207    1379

    The "M" versions for the above lasers are apparently multimode but with incomplete specifications. (The "M" here is apparently not the same as for the ones listed below.)

    The next set is what are currently found in the .pdf on the JDSU Web site in 2010. Most of the specifications are the same except for operating voltage (maybe JDSU calibrated their HV probes!) but a few models are no longer present:

    Red (632.8 nm):

      Minimum  e/2             c/2L               Nominal   <------ Model ------->
      Output   Beam   Diver-   Mode    Operating   Tube     Laser   Power  
      Power    Diam   gence   Spacing   Voltage   Current   Head    Supply  System
       .5 mW  .48 mm 1.80 mR 1090 MHz   1.25 kV   4.0 mA    1108/P  1205    1308/P
       .8 mW  .48 mm 1.70 mR 1090 MHz   1.25 kV   4.0 mA    1107/P  1205    1307/P
      1.5 mW  .63 mm 1.30 mR  730 MHz   1.70 kV   4.9 mA    1101/P  1201    1301/P
      2.0 mW  .63 mm 1.30 mR  730 MHz   1.70 kV   4.9 mA    1103/P  1201    1303/P
      2.0 mW  .63 mm 1.30 mR  730 MHz   1.80 kV   6.5 mA    1122/P  1206    1322/P
      5.0 mW  .81 mm 1.00 mR  435 MHz   2.30 kV   6.0 mA    1125/P  1202    1325/P
      7.0 mW  .81 mm 1.00 mR  435 MHz   2.30 kV   6.0 mA    1137/P  1202    1337/P
      10 mW   .68 mm 1.30 mR  320 MHz   3.10 kV   6.5 mA    1135/P  1216    1335/P
      17 mW   .70 mm 1.15 mR  257 MHz   3.80 kV   6.5 mA    1144/P  1218    1344/P
      22 mW   .70 mm 1.15 mR  257 MHz   3.80 kV   6.5 mA    1145P   1218    1345P
      25 mW   .70 mm 1.15 mR  257 MHz   3.80 kV   6.5 mA    1145    1218    1345

    The models 1508/P and 1507/P are self-contained "Novette" lasers that run from DC wall adapters but have identical specifications to the 1308/P and 1307/P, respectively.

    Green (543.5 nm):

      Minimum  e/2             c/2L               Nominal   <------ Model ------->
      Output   Beam   Diver-   Mode    Operating   Tube     Laser   Power  
      Power    Diam   gence   Spacing   Voltage   Current   Head    Supply  System
      .25 mW  .70 mm  .98 mR  441 MHz   2.25 kV   5.5 mA    1652/P  1207    1352/P
      .50 mW  .70 mm  .98 mR  441 MHz   2.25 kV   5.5 mA    1653    1207    1353
      .50 mW  .80 mm  .86 mR  325 MHz   2.70 kV   5.0 mA    1673P   1208    1373P
      .75 mW  .70 mm  .98 mR  441 MHz   2.25 kV   5.5 mA    1654    1207    1354
      .75 mW  .80 mm  .86 mR  325 MHz   2.70 kV   5.0 mA    1674P   1208    1374P

    Yellow (594.1 nm):

      Minimum  e/2             c/2L               Nominal   <------ Model ------->
      Output   Beam   Diver-   Mode    Operating   Tube     Laser   Power
      Power    Diam   gence   Spacing   Voltage   Current   Head    Supply  System
     1.00 mW  .73 mm 1.00 mR   ?? MHz   2.25 kV   5.5 mA    1677    1207    1377

    Orange (611.9 nm):

      Minimum  e/2             c/2L               Nominal   <------ Model ------->
      Output   Beam   Diver-   Mode    Operating   Tube     Laser   Power
      Power    Diam   gence   Spacing   Voltage   Current   Head    Supply  System
     3.00 mW  .74 mm 1.10 mR   ?? MHz   2.25 kV   5.5 mA    1679    1207    1379

    Some of these laser heads have an "M" version (or only come in an "M" version) which have 2 inch diameter mounting rings permanently attached.

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