The half-billion dollar drilling vessel Chikyu is designed to ultimately drill seven kilometers beneath the seabed where the Earth's crust is much thinner and into the Earth's mantle; deeper than any other hole drilled in the ocean thus far. While the planned depth of the hole is significantly less than the Russian Kola Superdeep Borehole (which has already reached 12 km depth on land), the scientific results are expected to be much more interesting since the regions targeted by Chikyu include some of the most seismically-active regions of the world. Other deep holes have been drilled by the drill ship JOIDES Resolution during the Deep Sea Drilling Project and the Ocean Drilling Program.
The Chikyu is an ocean-going vessel devised solely for the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program and was launched on January 18, 2002. The hull of the ship is 210 meters long, 38 meters in width, 16.2 meters high, and has an approximate gross tonnage of about 57,087 tons. The ship has a draft of 9.2 meters and a maximum cruising speed of 12 knots. The amidships derrick is 70 m high, and the top drive has a lifting capacity of 1,250 tons. Its complement of 150 crew are divided between 100 operators and 50 science personnel, with at seas crew changes handled by helicopter transfer.
Key innovations include a GPS system and six adjustable computer controlled azimuth thrusters (3.8 meters in diameter) that enable precise positioning to maintain a stable platform during deep water drilling. The maximum drilling water depth for riser drilling is 2,500 meters and can support a drill string up to 10,000 meters long.
On July 29, 2005, the vessel was delivered. On November 16, 2007 the project drilled into four of the six sites as planned, reaching 1,400 meters at the site where they plan to drill 6 kilometers. The first stage of four NanTroSEIZE Stages was completed in February 2008. The whole project is envisioned to be completed by 2012
The D/V Chikyu is featured and plays a pivotal role in the 2006 film Nihon Chinbotsu.