Fusion propulsion to the outer Solar System

Today’s bold claim in Scientific American is for nuclear propulsion methods for human exploration of the Solar System within timescales of a century:

Nuclear fusion reactions sparked by beams of antimatter could be propelling ultra-fast spaceships on long journeys before the end of the century, researchers say. A fusion-powered spacecraft could reach Jupiter within four months, potentially opening up parts of the outer solar system to manned exploration, according to a 2010 NASA report.

I was surprised to hear of the use of uranium in deuterium/tritium-rich fuel pellets:

Inside each pellet, this fuel would be surrounded by another material, perhaps uranium.

The US patent page describes further, filling in the missing detail:

In connection with a fusion process which can be initiated by a high energy input such as a laser beam, the use of a layer of uranium surrounding the fusion fuel such as deuterium-tritium or a non-cryogenic fuel such as lithium deuterium-lithium tritium. The uranium serves as a tamper layer to contain the fusion fuel and supplement the heating by a fission reaction which not only increases the fusion yield but increases the time of disassembly, thus materially increasing the efficiency of the fusion system.

Image courtesy Space.com

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