The polarization lidar technique requires that the transmitted laser beam in the atmosphere is linearly polarized so that a depolarization ratio from hydrometeors and aerosol particles can be detected. This is easily achieved in vertically
pointing lidars used to study clouds. However, in scanning lidars, which are of interest for wind and pollution studies,
stand-off detection and biodefense, the state of polarization of the laser beam is modified upon reflection by the mirrors of the scanner. We study experimentally the effect of a two-mirror scanner, or beam steering unit (BSU), on the polarization state of a linearly polarized beam at 1.54 micron wavelength. We built a miniature BSU in the lab and used a polarimeter to map the state of polarization (SOP) for all combinations of azimuth-elevation angles. We found that the linear polarization is preserved for a horizontal scan (elevation angle is 0°) but it rotates as a function of azimuth angle. There are a few more pointing directions in which the SOP is linear. Overall, the transmit beam is elliptically polarized for a non-zero elevation angle. The ellipticity and orientation of the ellipses is not constant. However, we found a period of repeatability of 180° in both azimuth and elevation angles. When comparing two different coatings, we note that the ellipticity is a function of the type of coating. We propose a method to eliminate the induced ellipticity by the BSU mirrors for all scan directions by means of altering the incident SOP on the BSU.