Hydrogen fluoride lasers operate at the wavelength of 2.7-2.9 µm. This wavelength is absorbed by the atmosphere, effectively attenuating the beam and reducing its reach, unless used in a vacuum environment. However, when deuterium is used instead of hydrogen, the deuterium fluoride lases at the wavelength of about 3.8 µm. This makes the deuterium fluoride laser usable for terrestrial operations.
The deuterium fluoride laser constructionally resembles a rocket engine. In the combustion chamber, ethylene is burned in nitrogen trifluoride. This reaction produces free excited fluorine radicals. Just after the nozzle, the mixture of helium and hydrogen or deuterium gas is injected to the exhaust stream; the hydrogen or deuterium reacts with the fluorine radicals, producing excited molecules of deuterium fluoride or hydrogen fluoride. The excited molecules then undergo stimulated emission in the optical resonator region of the laser.