GEOG 862
GPS and GNSS for Geospatial Professionals

GEOG 862 Syllabus (Fall 2020)


This syllabus is divided into several sections. You can read it sequentially by scrolling down the length of the document. That being said, it is essential that you read the entire document as well as material covered in the Course Orientation. Together these serve the role of our course "contract."


Instructor Jan Van Sickle

Jan Van Sickle

Senior Lecturer

2217 Earth & Engineering Sciences
University Park, PA 16802
College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University

  • Phone: (303) 915-4669 (The country code for the United States is 1)
  • Email: Please use the course email system (see the Inbox link in Canvas)
  • Availability: Students are welcome to contact me by email anytime; I usually am able to respond within 24 hours. Although email correspondence is preferred, students may also contact me by telephone at the number above from 8.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Monday through Friday, U.S. Eastern Time.

Course Overview

GEOG 862: GPS AND GNSS FOR GEOSPATIAL PROFESSIONALS. Cultivates a working knowledge of current and future capabilities of GPS and the emerging Global Navigation Satellite System.
Prerequisites - GEOG 484

The Global Positioning System (GPS) and the wider Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) include constellations of earth-orbiting satellites that broadcast their locations in space and time, a network of ground control stations, and military and civilian receivers that calculate ground positions by trilateration. Geospatial professionals need to possess a working knowledge of current and future GPS and GNSS capabilities because satellite positioning is so prevalent in geographic information systems (GIS) applications in government, industry, and academia.

GPS has always been a dual use system, military and civilian. From the beginning, GPS signals have been available with no direct user fees. GNSS has built on those concepts and added some new ones. GPS and GNSS are used now in all of transportation—aviation, maritime, railroad, highway and mass transit. Satellite positioning also plays critical roles in telecommunications, land surveying, law enforcement, emergency response, precision agriculture, mining, finance, and scientific research. It controls computer networks, air traffic, power grids, and so on. As the scope of satellite positioning has expanded, the systems continue to evolve.

What will be expected of you?

Like any graduate level course, you will be challenged to move beyond the knowledge and skills that you bring to the class. You can expect to be busy; as a rough estimate, you should allow 10-12 hours per week for class assignments. Included in the 10-12 hours each week is time to complete projects and related activities. You'll be glad to know that you don't have to show up for class at a certain time! All you need to do is complete assignments before the published deadline at the end of each week.

During the term, I encourage everyone to use the class message boards, chat rooms or email to help each other find relevant materials and learn about interesting applications of open web mapping. I can always be contacted via class email and will check my account daily during the week (and typically at least once each weekend). If I am traveling, I may check somewhat less frequently, but I will alert you of this beforehand.

My colleagues and I have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. How much and how well you learn is ultimately up to you. You will succeed if you are diligent about keeping up with the class schedule, and if you take advantage of opportunities to communicate with me, as well as with your fellow students.

For a more detailed look at what will be covered in each lesson, as well as due dates for our assignments and activities, please refer to the semester-specific course schedule that is part of this syllabus (see "Course Schedule").

Course Objectives

At the successful completion of this course, students should be able to:

  • demonstrate a clear understanding of the GPS signal, codes and biases
  • discuss the practical applications of GPS and the implications of its modernization
  • be aware of some of the opportunities afforded by the coming GNSS systems
  • explain the difficulties inherent in determining heights with satellite positioning and how they can be overcome
  • describe the differences between relative and autonomous GPS positioning, code phase carrier phase, DGPS and RTK

Required Course Materials

In order to take this course, you need to have the required course materials listed below.  All (other) materials needed for this course are presented online through our course website and in Canvas. In order to access the online materials, you need to have an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password (used to access the on-line course resources). If you have any questions about obtaining or activating your Penn State Access Account, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk. They can be reached at 1-800-252-3592 in the US or internationally at 814-865-5403 (country code 1). You may reach them by email at

You can purchase course materials from the vendor of your choice or from MBS Direct (the bookstore used by Penn State's World Campus). For pricing and ordering information, please see MBS Direct. MBS Direct can also be contacted at 1-800-325-3252. Materials will be available at MBS Direct approximately three weeks before the course begins. Be sure to order early enough to allow for shipping and installation prior to the course start date

The required material you need to purchase is:

  • Van Sickle, Jan (2015) GPS for Land Surveyors, 4th Ed. CRC Press. (ISBN: 978-1-4665-8310-8)

Using the Library

Just like on-campus students, as a Penn State student you have a wealth of library resources available to you!

As a registered user of Penn State Libraries, you can...

  • search for journal articles (many are even immediately available in full-text)
  • request articles that aren't available in full-text and have them delivered electronically
  • borrow books and other materials and have them delivered to your doorstep
  • access materials that your instructor has put on Electronic Reserve
  • talk to reference librarians in real time using chat, phone, and email
  • ...and much more!

Assignments and Grading

Students earn grades that reflect the extent to which they achieve the learning objectives listed above. Opportunities to demonstrate learning include the following, and grades will be based on points assigned to each of several components of the course as follows:

  • Class participation: Individual participation via online discussion (30%)
  • Quizzes: Three quizzes will be held to test the students' comprehension of class materials and other reading as required (33%)
  • Papers: Two writing assignments will assess the students' understanding of two separate topics from the course (37%)
Letter Grade and Corresponding Percentages
Letter Grade Percentages
A 90-100%
A- 87.5-89.9%
B+ 85-87.4%
B 80-84.9%
B- 77.5-79.9%
C+ 75-77.4%
C 70-74.9%
D 60-69.9%
F <60%
X Unsatisfactory (student did not participate)

Percentages refer to the proportion of all possible points earned by the student.

GEOG 862 Course Schedule

image Printable Schedule

Below you will find a summary of the lesson objectives for this course and the associated time frames. Assignment information will be located on each lesson's checklist. This course is 10 weeks in length, with an orientation week preceding the official start of the course. Each lesson is one week long and opens on Wednesday.

Course Orientation
Date: Week 0
  • articulate your own course expectations as a student in GEOG 862
  • understand the expectations we have of you as a student in GEOG 862
  • locate key information about the course, including assignments, due dates, technical
  • information, places to get help, and course policies
  • understand the rules and regulations regarding Academic Integrity and plagiarism at Penn State
  • understand how to communicate in this course environment
Lesson 1: The GPS Signal
Date: Week 1
Topics: The GPS Signal
  • demonstrate understanding of the basic GPS signal structure
  • discuss the similarities between GPS and trilateration
  • describe the pertinence of the navigation code
  • explain the structure of the P and C/A codes
  • define the creation of the GPS modulated carrier wave
  • identify the two GPS Observables
  • describe the role of auto-correlation and the lock and time shift associated with GPS pseudo-ranging
  • recognize the pseudo-range equation
  • discuss the role of carrier phase ranging in high accuracy GPS
Lesson 2: Biases and Solutions
Date: Week 2
Topics: Biases and Solutions
  • demonstrate biases and solutions
  • explain the error budget
  • explain the biases in the observation equations
  • describe user equivalent range error
  • identify the satellite clock bias, dt
  • define the ionospheric effect, dion
  • recognize the receiver clock bias, dT
  • describe the orbital bias
  • explain the tropospheric effect, dtrop
  • identify multipath
  • recognize differencing
  • differentiate between classifications of positioning solutions
  • discuss relative and autonomous positioning
  • recognize the benefits of single, double and triple differencing
Lesson 3: The Framework
Date: Week 3
Topics: The Framework
  • discuss technological forerunners of GPS
  • recognize terrestrial radio positioning, optical systems and extraterrestrial radio positioning
  • explain the role of TRANSIT in GPS development
  • explain NAVSTAR
  • describe GPS Segment Organization
  • differentiate between the roles of the Space Segment, the Control Segment and the User Segment
Lesson 4: Receivers and Methods
Date: Week 4
Topics: Receivers and Methods
  • recognize the basic functions of the common features of GPS receivers, the antenna, the preamplifier, the RF section, the microprocessor, the CDU, the storage and the power.
  • recognize some of the important issues in choosing a GPS receiver
  • discuss some of the trends in receiver development
  • explain some GPS surveying methods
  • demonstrate static
  • explain differential GPS. DGPS
  • explain kinematic
  • describe pseudokinematic
  • identify rapid-static
  • define on-the-fly
  • recognize real-time-kinematic
Lesson 5: Geodetic Datums
Date: Week 5
Topics: Geodetic Datums
  • demonstrate understanding of the basics of geodetic coordinates
  • describe a few pertinent ideas about geodetic datums
  • describe plane surveying
  • recognize the structure of some geodetic coordinate systems
  • define the elements of a geodetic datum
  • discuss the geoid
  • explain the North American Datum 1983
Lesson 6: State Plan Coordinates and Heights
Date: Week 6
Topics: State Plan Coordinates and Heights
  • explain the basics of State Plane Coordinates
  • describe NAD83 positions and plane coordinates
  • identify map projections
  • define map distortion
  • differentiate between SPCS27 and SPCS83
  • describe scale and distance in State Plane Coordinates
  • explain the basics of heights
  • identify ellipsoidal heights
  • recognize orthometric heights
  • discuss the evolution of the vertical datum in North America
  • recognize the geoid
Lesson 7: Static, DGPS and RTK
Date: Week 7
Topics: Static, DGPS and RTK
  • discuss the basics of planning a static GPS survey
  • recognize the role of NGS control 
  • explain Continuously Operating Reference Stations 
  • explain Static GPS project design 
  • demonstrate drawing GPS baselines 
  • describe how to calculate the number of sessions necessary for a static survey
  • explain the usese of real-time kinematic GPS and DGPS  
  • describe LADGPS and WADGPS
  • define RTCM SC-104   
  • recognize the use of the radio licensing and cell phones in RTK  
  • recognize some practical RTK suggestions
  • recognize precise point positioning PPP
Lesson 8: Observing and Processing
Date: Week 8
Topics: Observing and Processing
  • demonstrate the understanding of some techniques of GPS observing and data processing
  • discuss some of the components of Static GPS control such as equipment, station data sheets, visibility diagrams, monumentation and logistics 
  • describe RTK and DGPS observations 
  • explain some of the components of GPS data processing such as the quantity of data, downloading, control, the first position, the role of triple differencing and double differencing, cycle slip detection and repair
  • define the components of fixing the integer ambiguity and obtaining vector solutions
  • describe how to use some GPS processing services
Lesson 9: GPS Modernization and GNSS
Date: Week 9
Topics: GPS Modernization and GNSS
  • recognize GPS Modernization 
  • explain the difference between Block I, Block II and Block IIR satellites
  • describe power spectral density diagrams
  • identify the M Code
  • define L2C
  • recognize L5
  • discuss the significance of the Block IIF satellites
Lesson 10: Basic GNSS and the Future
Date: Week 10
Topics: Basic GNSS and the Future
  • recognize the benefits of L1C
  • define BPSK modulation scheme
  • define BOC modulation scheme
  • explain the difference between BPSK and BOC modulation schemes
  • define the GLONASS FDMA approach and GLONASS Signals
  • define the GPS CDMA approach
  • differentiate between the GLONASS FDMA approach and the GPS CDMA
  • recognize the use of leap seconds in GLONASS and GLONASS Time
  • define GALILEO
  • describe the significance of GIOVE A and GIOVE B
  • define GALILEO signals
  • define Beidou/Compass
  • identify the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System
  • recognize the potential of GPS interoperability with GLONASS and GALILEO systems

Class Support Services

Penn State Online offers online tutoring to World Campus students in math, writing, and some business classes. Tutoring and guided study groups for residential students are available through Penn State Learning.

Course Policies


Students who do not meet these prerequisites may be disenrolled according to Administrative Policy C-5;if they do not have the proper prerequisite override. If you have not completed the listed prerequisites, then promptly consult with the instructor if you have not done so already. Students who add the course after being disenrolled, according to this policy, are in violation of the Student Code of Conduct.

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the World Campus Technical Requirements page, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the IT Service Desk (for World Campus students) or Penn State's IT Help Portal (for students at all other campus locations).

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot.

Mixed Content

This site is considered a secure web site, which means that your connection is encrypted. We do, however, link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted. This is called mixed content. By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome. This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed. Follow the directions on our Technical Requirements page to view the mixed content.


This course must be viewed using the latest version of Firefox, Safari, Chrome, or Edge. Internet Explorer is not supported. If you use any other browser, or if you are not using the latest version of your browser, some pages containing equations may not render properly. In addition, javascript must be enabled for equations to render properly. If you have any issues with equations not rendering properly, please update your browser to the latest version or try using a different browser. If you need additional technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from Penn State are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Academic Integrity

This course follows the procedures for academic integrity of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting others' work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other students' papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. To learn more, see Penn State's Academic Integrity Training for Students

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Office for Student Disability Resources website provides contact information for Campus Disability Coordinators at every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Office for Student Disability Resources website.

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled. You will participate in an intake interview and provide documentation. See documentation guidelines at Applying for Services from Student Disability Resources. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Change in Normal Campus Operations

In case of weather-related delays or other emergency campus disruptions or closures at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to these delays or closures. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.

Reporting Educational Equity Concerns

Penn State takes great pride in fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated (Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance) and can be reported through Educational Equity via Report Bias.

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional well-being.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.  Services include the following:

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Connect Online with Caution

Penn State is committed to educational access for all. Our students come from all walks of life and have diverse life experiences. As with any other online community, the lack of physical interaction in an online classroom can create a false sense of anonymity and security. While one can make new friends online, digital relationships can also be misleading. Good judgment and decision-making are critical when choosing to disclose personal information to others whom you do not know.

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time for reasons that are beyond your control, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor, following Penn State Deferred Grade Policy 48-40. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to the instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. Non-emergency permission for filing a deferred grade must be requested before the beginning of the final examination period.  It is up to the instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If permission is granted, you will work with the instructor to establish a communication plan and a clear schedule for completion within policy.  If, for any reason, the coursework for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.


This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances or University approved activities.

If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming, and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.

For additional information, see:

Mandated Reporting Statement

Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework. For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response website.

Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law.


Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. All changes will be communicated to you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum.